The Decadents is a darkly humorous tale about backward family dynamics and a derailing political campaign, comprised of two connected narratives. One is the terse relationship between Phil and his son, David Samuel. The other focuses on Phil’s dubious political drive. Combined, they dip in and out of comedy to stretch and strain the moral limits of the titular decadents.
The story makes an undeniably strong first impression. With a raucously funny exchange between father and son, and the ensuing presentation of David Samuel’s eccentric character, we could even say that The Decadents tricks its readers into assuming that the same absurd, jovial humor will persist throughout.
Instead, this lightness deteriorates more and more with every page, until an overall sense of horror begins to outweigh the initial delight. Still, Schmidt never misses an opportunity to insert an amusing thought or interaction into the otherwise somber dealings, such as a “bitchy” cat presumed capable of devouring a corpse before it could ever be discovered.
The deeper we delve into the plot, the more surprising and welcome these interjections appear. One of the novel’s highlights is its sharp, rapid-fire dialogue. The uniqueness of each of the characters’ way of talking also adds polish to Schmidt’s writing.
In particular, it’s David Samuel’s elevated and highly overdramatic speech that serves as a sort of punch line to anything that is said within his vicinity. And it’s his romanticized conflict with his father that is arguably the most comedic and engaging element of the story.
That may be because some of the most inventive descriptions never leave David Samuel’s shadow. For example, “his body was a thousand dogs in silky blankets all moving in different directions”, as well as Phil’s memorable depiction of his son’s appearance to his future attacker.
Sadly, after making a shining debut in the first part of the story, the son is delegated to the margins. Instead of acclimating to David Samuel’s snark and sass, two-thirds of the novel focus on fleshing out Phil’s political aspirations, accommodating all the folly and tediousness that this entails.
But seeing as Phil is declared a detestable character by all the people he interacts with, and likely the majority of the readers, this change of direction sucks most of the momentum out of the novel. As a result, though connected, the two plotlines create enough forks in the narrative to give us the impression that we’re reading two separate stories.
Perhaps the split in The Decadents wouldn’t be as jarring if the political component didn’t introduce an entirely new character, Eddie Ellis. Though his presence is later justified, Eddie’s own family drama naturally takes away from the attention that could be paid to some of the other neon figures that pop in and out of the story, and whom we are led to care about a great deal more.
All the loose ends are tied in the end, but this doesn’t change the fact that for most of the novel, we’re led to believe that one crucial storyline has been regretfully abandoned. Most notably, there is very little humor in Eddie’s life, and its lack bleeds into the ambiance.
All thoughts of the comedy promised by the first few chapters of The Decadents flee, and we’re left with an account of one bleak character’s downfall. As the title suggests, the characters are at the forefront of the story, and their personalities inevitably dictate our level of engagement.
Nevertheless, there are some truly uproarious moments, ones that pull full-bodied laughs and induce cramps, and a few more comedic scenes sprinkled throughout. Most importantly, Schmidt’s prose is quick-witted and highly intelligent, and leaves you excited for more.
Publication date: May 5, 2022 (Library Tales Publishing)