Christopher Miller’s novel, The Cardboard Universe, is presented as a manuscript for an encyclopedia; fully indexed with both literary and biographical information about the life and work of a prolific science fiction writer, named Pheobus Dank. The entries ramble and digress revealing as much about Dank as it does the co-authors of the work. B. Boswell is the leading Danken scholar and Hirt, the childhood friend and neighbor of Dank. By page 400 the reader thinks they know these three men, Dank’s a hack, Boswell is a fawning sycophant who would rather write fiction than teach it, and Hirt is a failed poet and bitter critic who pronounces Dank a hack at every opportunity. It’s around this point, page 400, that the conceit, a working manuscript edited by the two writers with opposing viewpoints, gets tired. You may be tempted to give up. Don’t. Right around the enough already point the tone of the manuscript changes. Everything we thought we knew about Dank and his biographers is upended. The ending moves at breakneck speed and is bizarre and yet, oddly believable.
Christopher Miller’s fake encyclopedia is longer and more digressive than Roberto Bolano’s, Nazi Literature in the Americas, but is great example of the fictional reference book genre.
Review Submitted by: Pamela Mann, Reference, Instruction and Outreach Librarian