You may know I like zombies. I don’t know what it is about them. They’re persistent I guess. And, unlike many other horror-based concepts, they aren’t really running (or I guess shambling) around out there in the real world, at least not yet (as opposed to serial killers and such – hence why I will never watch a Saw film and hated Silence of the Lambs). Also, they provide many opportunities for social commentary, which vampires, for instance, as much as I may like them, seldom seem to.
So lately I’ve read a bunch more zombie stuff. First off is Zombie Haiku by Ryan Meacum.
Zomibe Haiku was a short bit of fun, and for what it is, quite good. It especially excels in its graphic design, from the Polaroids of mid-attack zombies to the bits of paper with haiku scrawled on them to the flies and the blood, visually it is fantastic. As for the actual story, it’s ok.
It tells the story of a zombie outbreak, and then the experiences of one zombie, via haiku. However, you must suspend even more disbelief than you usually would in a zombie-related work, because frankly how many people do you think would keep writing haiku while being pursued by zombies. It’s sort of like the movie Cloverfield, which I didn’t like at all: drop the friggin’ camera already. No one would keep filming at some of the points of that movie. Also, and perhaps even harder to believe, in Zombie Haiku is that one of the zombies would be writing haiku. These zombies do seem to have some memories of their past, however, but can’t overcome their zombification to act upon them. So I guess they do have some higher brain functions, even if they can’t do anything about it because of their hunger and need to eat human flesh.
Some of my favorite haiku from the book:
I keep saying “brains.”
I know other words,
But I just need one.
I can see through you.
Literally through your mouth
And out to the street.
I can remember
Good food that Mom used to make.
I bet Mom tastes good.
Brains, brains, brains brains, brains.
Brains, brains, brains brains, brains, brains, brains.
Brains, brains, brains brains, brains.
Last night I finished reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. It is a young adult novel, and the adoring blurbs on the back are from fantastic teen-lit authors like Scott Westerfeld, Melissa Marr, and Cassandra Clare. On listservs librarians have raved about it. I’m not quite sure why this book has received the praise it has from so many people. I really just didn’t find it that intriguing. I guess my problem is that when it started, the idea held such promise (even if it did sort of seem reminiscient of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village). Then, it fell prey to the same problems I had with Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins’ sequel to the fantastic The Hunger Games – simply too much love triangle (is that like too much cowbell?).
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a book about survival in a post-apocalyptic world filled with neo-Puritanism, harsh conditions, little hope, few people, and lots of zombies. That sounds awesome, right? Well, unfortunately, Ryan wipes out all of the interesting parts about religion, the village the survivors live in, and almost everything I wanted to know more about, and instead focuses on this love triangle between Mary and two brothers, Harry and Travis (well, actually it’s a love square since Mary’s friend Cass is also involved). What results is a novel filled mostly with Mary pining and lusting away for Travis, then feeling guilty about Harry (who she’s betrothed to), and then pining and lusting some more. And, what’s worse, is she doesn’t really love any of them. She really is the self-centered figure that she gets told she is several times throughout the book. The climax of the book kicked the zombie-survival action up a notch, but then the ending was very lacking. All in all, I was not impressed.
Finally, on to the third zombie book I’ve read recently. And I loved. I don’t care if you don’t like zombies, Breathers: a zombie’s lament by S.G. Browne is simply a fantastic story.
While I don’t prefer “fast” zombies (like those in the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, although it was a good enough zombie-survival-horror film), I’m not against reconceiving the idea of a zombie. Breathers does just that. In a world that is only different from ours because zombies have always been a part of it – just a marginalized, ignored, persecuted, part of it – Andy Warner wakes up from a major bender in a pile of defrosted frozen vegetables and melted ice cream, only to discover is parents’ heads in ziplock bags in the fridge, and the rest of their body parts cut up and shoved in the freezer. Andy is a zombie, and has been for a few months. The events leading up to this opening scene then unfold as Andy tells his story – from the car crash that killed his wife (and himself), to his attendance at Undead Anonymous meetings, to meeting other zombies including Rita (a sexy suicide victim) and Ray (a somewhat redneck zombie who hands out jars of preserved game that he hunts), to sessions in therapy with a plastic surgery addicted psychologist, to staging non-violent pro-zombie protests, to dealing with his angry father and passive mother (they “let” him stay in their wine cellar). For someone who is undead, he has a lot of problems similar to those living, only he has to drink formaldehyde to keep from decomposing.
Andy is always quick to point out that we readers might not understand him or his story, his motivations and desires: “If you’ve never woken up in a mortuary with a cannula inserted in your carotid artery while your face inflates like a balloon, then you probably wouldn’t understand.” Andy also happens to write haiku, so I guess zombies may just like Japanese poetry, who knew?
As events unfold Andy’s unlife evolves and includes acceptance, growth, love, and ultimately a desire to live a “normal life” and regain the rights he had as a living human, leading up to the moment with his parents in the freezer, and then beyond. Of course, there’s more to it than that, and Browne transforms many of the traditional zombie tropes into new and fresh ideas. For instance, zombies always want to eat people, but have you ever considered why?
Breathers is hilarious, heartfelt, thought-provoking, and original. It ranks up there with Shaun of the Dead as one of the best modern reinterpretations of the zombie mythos. I highly recommend it.