A Crash Course
On the Anatomy of Robots
By Kent Evans

Amazon link to A Crash CourseAmazon UK Link Link to Powell's used and new books
Rating:  Excellent
3 Stars

First Published: 2012
Pages: 321
Cover Art by Katie Clancy 

Review © 2012 by Stephen Roof
Genre:  Modern Fiction, Literature, Semi-Autobiography



A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots is an inventive novel of surviving life’s ups and downs for the 21st century.  It follows a young writer as he struggles to deal with a series of devastating life events that leave him feeling cutoff from his emotions and society.  In an effort to cope, he sets off for Southeast Asia on a quest to re-connect with humanity.  Combining a mixture of crazy travel adventures and flashbacks from the events that led up to the present, the author provides an emotional adventure through modern life.

One thing to note about the title of this novel is that it does not refer to mechanized robots or science fiction in any shape or form.  The title uses the metaphor of a robot to describe “A person who works mechanically without original thought”, which is applied to both the main character Damien, who is the fictional author of the novel, as well as others. 

A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots is apparently highly autobiographical but is fictionalized at least to the point of protecting the author from lawsuits.  The description of the main character and fictional author of the novel, Damien, matches almost exactly the description of the novel’s real life author, Kent Evans.  He’s a 30 year old of half Asian and half European descent who has made a decent living through writing and from his work as a “spoken-word artist” on the New York circuit.  Except for losing his dad when he was 19, life seems almost too easy for Damien until his beloved mother dies and his comfortable world is shattered.  Then, to make matters worse, he finds out that his father covered up the true cause of his death along with a whole hidden side of his life.  When Damien finds that his ex-girlfriend is going out with one of his best friends, it’s the last straw and the beginning of the end of his new relationship. In an attempt to escape and start new, Damien takes off on an alcohol and drug fueled trip through Thailand and Southeast Asia where he meets a wide assortment of tourists, travelers, and locals.  

Evans uses quite a number of different techniques to tell his story.  He combines a mixture of direct conversation with the reader, second person narrative journal entries, a series of first person travelogue blog entries, third person narratives, and a smattering of prose poetry.  In a self-deprecating note to the reader, the author warns the reader about the techniques and types of writing contained in the novel which includes confessionary writing, “lazy stuff indeed”, and poetry, “the ultimate in literary sloth”.  However, for the most part, the mixture works.  The narrative sections and poetry contain inspired descriptive language that often includes a strong emotional punch.  I’m guessing that Evan’s talent for inventive narrative was developed from his experiences as a spoken-word artist.  The only technique that I found to be a bit weaker was the blog entry style which tended to compress large amounts of travel details into short spaces with some of the emotional content stripped out. 

A Crash Course drew me in right from the start with the raw authenticity of Damien’s voice along with emotional events and a good bit of humor, often at his own expense.  (Be warned that he doesn’t shy away from bad language, graphic sex, and excessive use of drugs and alcohol.)  Damien recounts highly entertaining ups and downs of his love life along with wild misadventures in New York, LA, and Mexico.  With the constant shifting of perspective from the narrative forms along with jumps back and forth in time as well as between different locations, the writing keeps the reader off balance.  However, the author does a surprisingly good job of maintaining narrative tension to the point of making this novel hard to put down for the first ¾ of the novel.  However, the last quarter of the novel which concentrated on the trip through Southeast Asia was not quite able to sustain the momentum that had been built up.  Too much of the last sections were told through blogging as the author seemed to be trying to reign in a travelogue that was starting to get out of control, and the endless drunken party theme became a bit too repetitious. 

Within A Crash Course, the author narrator makes a direct comparison of the story to the classic novel, The Stranger by Albert Camus, on at least two occasions.  The theme of feeling isolated from society is shared by both novels and Damien describes his feelings when his mother died as being very similar to Camus’s main character when his mother died.  Damien says, “Like Meursault, Camus’s existentially challenged protagonist, I could not feel her death, only observe its impact.”  Late in the novel, another traumatic event also has similarities to an event in Camus’s novel which I won’t describe because of the spoiler effect.  However, the meaning and impact of this event in A Crash Course is not explored in much depth.  In fact, the event does not seem to have any real consequences and the ending arrives without much in the way of a satisfying resolution.

Additional materials were appended to the end of the novel in a section that Evans compares to the special features of a DVD.  This section includes longer versions of poems used in the novel as well as another short story about Damien.  The additional materials were generally well worth reading which made up a bit for the somewhat flat ending to the novel.

I highly recommend A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots for any adults looking for an innovative reading experience with a fresh look at life, love, and travels in the new millennium.  It’s exciting to find such a talented new young American writer.