Death Comes for the Deconstructionist by Daniel Taylor—Goodreads Book Review

Originally posted on Goodreads.com.

Unemployed, approaching middle age, and hearing voices (again), Jon Mote is hardly the sleuth type; indeed, his developmentally challenged sister-turned-ever-supportive sidekick is often much more successful with people than he. Nonetheless, when the wife of his previous literary criticism professor asks him to investigate her husband’s death, the erstwhile graduate student must return to academia to find what enemies a post-modernist could have made—which, he finds, is not a short list.

Death Comes for the Deconstructionist mixes metaphysical crises with the murder-mystery plot. Throughout the main plot, the first-person narrator of Mote experiences the deeper subplot of his investigation’s effect on his own mania. With both, Daniel Taylor examines the bases and implications (rarely just theoretical) of modern deconstructionist perspectives regarding things like truth, beauty, goodness, and the ability or inability of language, reason, and literature to accurately reveal them.

In his dual professors, the older classicist Dr. Abramson and the younger, modern, and dead Dr. Pratt, as well as other characters, Taylor also articulates the debates between the old and new schools that have characterized academia in recent decades, as well as the internal politics and non-theoretical conflicts therein. Through the academic, civic, and at times evangelical milieus into which Jon and Judy find themselves, Taylor examines how one’s past shapes their consciousness as much as it does their stated beliefs and convictions, and he questions many of modern academia’s assumptions about reality and human psychological health—a conflict concretized most consistently in the contrast between the manic Jon’s experience of the world and that of his challenged but free sister.

I would recommend this book mostly on account of the narrator (reminds me of Raskalnikov from Crime and Punishment, with which this book has many thematic parallels) and because of how well it articulates the changes in academia and why they might matter, on both broad and individual levels. While I’m at best an amateur at evaluating crime dramas, the book’s pacing is excellent, its characters deeper than they initially seem, and its themes relevant to today. The well-prepared climax brought me to tears.

Author: dustinllovell

Writing professor, literature and US history tutor, previous ESL instructor, and would-be novelist who enjoys/specializes in Shakespeare, 19th century lit, and philosophy (whether in print or via audiobook). Author of the novel Sacred Shadows and Latent Light (Wipf and Stock, Resources Imprint). Member of Heterodox Academy. Columnist for The Mallard.

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