Tuesday, December 27, 2011

He Who Shall Remain Shameless by David Michael Ewald

He Who Shall Remain ShamelessIn He Who Shall Remain Shameless, the protagonist roams the world with his electronic companion on a mission to rescue ghosts from obscurity (personified by the Meritocrat). Most of these are no ordinary ghosts, but rather those who enjoyed some celebrity or notoriety in life and have become largely forgotten in death. Our protagonist, who shares the same name as the author of this book but definitely isn't him (and that's explained in the book), believes that the internet can keep the memory of people alive forever. All he needs to do is convince them to embrace it.

Sometimes he succeeds. Sometimes he doesn't.

That kind of describes Ewald's story too. Each chapter is about a ghost the protagonist encounters and some were better than others. In some chapters, Ewald successfully builds suspense; particularly with those who died a violent death. These are his better chapters. Other chapters fall short when Ewald abandons suspense in favor of a satirical approach, as when the protagonist encounters King Aegeus of Greek legend. It's as if Ewald isn't certain what type of novel he's trying to write.

Ewald deserves credit for his research. As each ghost was introduced, I couldn't help but see what I could learn of them from a couple of quick searches (I discovered Mr. Ewald's fingerprints on multiple occasions). While I knew of a couple of these figures, most of them were unknown to me. Ewald deftly collects fragments and scraps of these lost souls and builds believable characters out of them. Again, those in the suspenseful chapters proved to be the most memorable.

The strength of the protagonist varies too. His cause is noble, but his various methods waver on their propriety. At times, he seems genuinely concerned about the dead and consoles them as they wrestle with their fate. Other times, he resorts to trickery or mockery to boost his chances of success (the end justifies the means). The latter behavior casts a shadow over the former. Perhaps if there had been more transition, the shifts in the protagonist's behavior would've been easier to understand.

Despite these quibbles, I found He Who Shall Remain Shameless to be an entertaining read. Ewald is at his best when he plays the suspense card. His historical ghosts are well researched and have believable personalities. But the story's strongest element is its exploration of death and obscurity. As we ponder his assertion that the Internet can (and should) be used to remember everyone, celebrity and average person alike, he reminds us that we're mortal. And death is a lesson we should all remember as we conduct our lives.

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