‘List of Things’ novel funny, touching

Posted February 19, 2015

“A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me”
Jason Schmidt


To be completely honest, reading recently written books is a bit outside my routine.   Typically it’ll be car magazines and the occasional bout of Russian literature.

Fortunately, because I was assigned this review about a century-and-a-quarter too late for anything by Dostoevsky to be considered contemporary literature, I stumbled upon “A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me,” written by Jason Schmidt. Usually disturbing and funny don’t go together in a synopsis, so I figured I’d give it a try.

The book chronicles author Jason Schmidt’s experiences growing up with his father Mark, a drug abusing and dealing hippie who comes out of the closet as the book continues.  Their escapades take them all around the Pacific Northwest, California, and Arizona, from elementary school all the way through to college.

In the beginning of the book, Jason lives with his grandfather and step-grandmother, a born again Christian who talked about letting Jesus into your heart. Jason’s father’s personality is encapsulated in his response to his son.

“The government that killed Jesus was the empire of Rome. But that government eventually became the church. So now the church lies about what Jesus actually said, in order to control people’s minds,” he wrote.

Over the course of the book, Jason’s world is expanded in a lot of strange ways- moving around to new towns after a few years, not really making many friends, and growing up more as a product of his environment than parenting per se. He also is presented with the task of evaluating and living with his father’s various boyfriends.

Yet through it all, he still manages to find some moral center in all of the chaos around him, a lot of the time through popular media and interactions with friends.

“I want to be Han Solo … Luke didn’t look anything like me. He was blond. He had blue eyes. And while he could do a lot of cool things, he never seemed to have much choice. Or he never made the choices. Han Solo made choices, and most of them were pretty self-serving. He was a smuggler. He shot that green guy in the bar. But when the chips were down, he made a choice to come back and join the fight. He saved Luke and send Darth Vader spinning off into the void. Luke was fine. But I wanted to be Han Solo. I wanted to be the guy not to fuck with, who comes through at the last minute and saves his best friend’s ass. I didn’t care about destroying the death star. I wanted to be loyal. And brave,” Schmidt wrote.

This theme is recurring through the novel, where Jason asks himself, “What would Han Solo do?” when confronted by a problem. All throughout the book there are funny and tongue-in-cheek situations that show a child’s struggle with finding logic in an increasingly illogical world.

Later, Jason is confronted with the reality of having a father with AIDS and the trials and tribulations therein. He still manages to finish school and go to college, but not without hilarity ensuing as he learns to navigate life with essentially no map or idea where to go.

Though the majority of the writing is concise with simple sentence structure and clear meaning, the more reflective parts at the end of the book become more sophisticated in writing style and breadth. It’s not often a funny book can be so touching, but this one really hits the nail on the head. Altruism and morality still can exist with barely any guidance, and all it takes is one person to change a life. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

  • “A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me”
  • By Jason Schmidt
  • Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (Jan. 6, 2015)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374380137