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The Holidays Have Put Me In the Mood for … Zombies

January 2, 2011

Note: Happy New Year! Please check out Sarah’s first movie review of 2011! — Me and Orson Welles — and leave a comment to let her know you stopped by.

Zombies seem to be very popular in my house, and in our culture in general, right now. I’m not sure why. Maybe it taps into our confusion, fear and fascination concerning our own mortality. Maybe its allure stems from the mythology and mystery. Or maybe we just think the undead — and the people who battle them — are completely Bad Ass.

The Walking Dead: Book One by Robert Kirkman

I bought this graphic novel for my hubby for Christmas, after we both got hooked on the T.V. adaptation, and I read it as soon as he opened it. It’s very different from the show. Some of the characters were changed, and it has radically different plot twists.

After a zombie apocalypse, a small group of survivors set up camp on the Georgia countryside. There are two police officers; one has a wife and son. A young Asian man, a former pizza delivery driver, is astute at navigating the streets of Atlanta, now infested with hordes of homicidal zombies, to gather essential supplies. A religious middle aged housewife, with a weakness for sticking her nose into other people’s business, has a husband and twin boys. An elderly man meant to travel the country with his wife after retirement. She died, and he uses their recreation vehicle as a means of survival. The encampment also includes a young widow and her daughter, two sisters, and a young man.

This comic book follows their ongoing struggle to survive. There are intense, often brutal, action scenes and grotesque images of the walking dead. Honestly, you’d be disappointed if you didn’t get to see pictures of decomposing zombies, wouldn’t you?

However, the focus of the book is not on action but on the characters. The artwork is detailed, and there are many frames showing close-ups of characters’ faces. The focus is on facial expressions; they’re often subtle and  incredibly well done. There are moments of stillness, when the action and dialogue pauses and we focus on an emotional scene or a character’s face. It’s as if we’re alone, for a moment, with their thoughts and complex, overwhelming emotions.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the complex web of relationships among the characters and the way they evolved throughout the story. It explores the myriad ways people respond to a continuing struggle to survive, loss, and looming despair. A character might lose his humanity, becoming ruthless, or gain a new depth and capacity for compassion.

I definitely recommend this to zombie aficianados and graphic novel lovers. Not for the faint of heart! (4/5 stars)

Other Reviews: Comic Book Revolution; The Zombie Digest

Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindquist

It’s impossible to describe a human eye; all expectations end up ghost-like, paintings and photographs acceptable only because we know they are frozen moments of time. A living eye cannot be described or recreated. But we know all too well when it is not there … Her eye was dead. It was covered by a microscopically thin gray membrane, and it might as well have been a stone wall.  (p. 44)

My daughter gave me this novel, by the author of Let the Right One In, for Christmas. It’s a unique and unusually believable twist on the zombie genre; this makes it even more disturbing.

In contemporary Stockholm, something bizarre is happening. During a heat wave, electric lights and appliances can’t be turned off; it’s like a reverse blackout. Everyone is suffering headaches. The opening scenes seemed so real, I could feel the sweltering heat and the persistent pain.

(Warning: the following paragraph is a bit spoilerish, though it doesn’t give away any more than you’d glean from the jacket cover.) A young man rushes to the hospital, after his wife’s car accident, only to find she died while he was on the road. He had always feared, deep down, that this would happen. He believed she was too good for him; his good fortune couldn’t last. It seems like the situation couldn’t get worse. Until she reawakens.

He soon learns that the recently deceased are rising throughout the city. Hospitals, police and military are scrambling to collect the “reliving” and figure out a way to deal with them.

He had not been particularly surprised to hear about what was happening in the morgue. It seemed to him as abhorrent, implausible — and as logical — as everything else. The world had been thrown into darkness tonight: why shouldn’t the dead come back to life as well? (p. 87)

Throughout the city, others struggle to cope with the crisis. The recently breaved grandfather of a small boy. A woman who just lost her husband of 50 years, after an excruciatingly long illness. Her granddaugher, a teen with a passion for Marilyn Manson’s music and horror movies and a history of self mutilation.

Each person responds differently to the news. Everyone’s reaction is shaped by his religious beliefs and his unresolved feelings about the recent death.

The zombies in this story aren’t quite like the ones we’ve seen in horror movies. I will leave you to discover this for yourself. Or if you don’t plan to read this novel, spoilers are in the white space below (highlight the space to read the text).

At first glance, the zombies don’t seem violent. They aren’t scrambling to bite the living or devour their brains. They’re passive, confused, and almost mindless. However, they unwittingly have an insidious, dangerous power. When zombies are nearby, the living can suddenly hear each other’s thoughts. This causes great turmoil. It’s difficult enough to face ones own combined hope, fear and revulsion when meeting a loved one who’s risen from the grave. Being inundated with everyone else’s  intense, conflicted emotions is unbearable. And no teenage girl wants to learn everything about her boyfriend’s latent homosexuality and self loathing.

Furthermore, the undead absorb the emotions of the living. When confronted with a terrified, disgusted person, a zombie lashes out in rage.

Strictly speaking, this is not really a horror novel. It is a painful, sometimes horrific, and often grotesque psychological novel about how people cope with unspeakable loss, old wounds, grief, hope and longing.

It is a compelling, gorgeously written novel, but it’s difficult to read. It would be especially hard on a reader who is recently bereaved or has ever lost a child. And some scenes are frankly disgusting. These scenes are an integral part of the story; they’re not gratuitous. However, this is not a book for all readers.

I had another problem with the book, albeit a fairly minor one. This might be spoilerish, so highlight it if you want to read it. Zombies are reduced to the most primitive part of their brains. Some of their behaviors, like taking apart mechanical devices and repeating words and phrases, were a bit like traits of people with autism. I doubt these little parallels were intentional, but still, it didn’t sit well with me.

Overall, this was a terrific read and some passages were beautiful and unforgettable. (4/5 stars)

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Veens permalink
    January 3, 2011 1:16 am

    I hope you had a great Christmas and New Year!
    I have not read any Zombie books and am no thinking of reading any as of now! I don’t like them 😦

    • January 3, 2011 4:29 am

      There’s nothing wrong with not liking zombies. Though I happen to know you don’t mind a good vampire novel once in a while. 😀 Happy New Year, Veens!

  2. January 3, 2011 3:14 am

    I’m all about the zombies lately too. The Walking Dead is a phenomenal show!

    • January 3, 2011 4:30 am

      That is a terrific show, isn’t it? I usually have no interest in anything on T.V., and I was hooked.

  3. Adesa permalink
    January 3, 2011 4:57 am

    My iPad wouldn’t let me comment on Sarah’s blog, so until I get on the old computer, tell her I sais thanks for the recommendation. I often suspect “pretty boys” like Efron and R Pattz are underrated and find myself wanting desperately for them to prove themselves.

    As for zombies: our American attention span has finished with wizards, vampires, and werewolves. Zombies were the next obsession by default. But The Walking Dead (the show) certainly does the thing well, doesn’t it? I’ve been hoping to get my hands on the graphic novel, though I don’t generally care for that format. Thanksfor the recommendatoins!

    • January 3, 2011 5:29 am

      I never cared for graphic novels until the past year, and I’ve found I enjoy them a lot. The Walking Dead is really good, though I have to say I enjoyed the series more.

  4. January 3, 2011 8:37 am

    Back in April [2010] I had read Handling the Undead and it was my first consciously chosen zombie tale.

    The people really had sucked energy. There were lights and effects and everything.

    My highlights don’t always work reliably, and I may or may not see the spoilers.

    Have a great 2011!

  5. January 3, 2011 4:17 pm

    I have to admit I don’t generally go in for zombies, but that first one up there sounds great!

  6. January 3, 2011 6:37 pm

    Happy New Year, Stephanie. 🙂

    Can’t say I’ve ever read a zombie book but Handling the Undead sounds rather good.

  7. January 5, 2011 9:42 pm

    Happy New Year Stephanie, hope it’s one filled with love, laughs, special memories and of course loads and loads of great reads!

    As for the zombies … I’m going with bad ass! I was about to add Handling the Undead to my wishlist and then I read your comment “It would be especially hard on a reader who is recently bereaved or has ever lost a child.” Having lost a child … I’m now undecided whether it’s for me.

  8. January 6, 2011 6:58 pm

    I don’t know if I could handle a gorefest right now! I’m having enough trouble with scenes from the Iliad that my daughter has been reading aloud to us. That Homer, so descriptive when it came to battle!

    I will take note of the first book. Artist that I am, I can’t pass up a graphic novel! 😀

    Peace and Laughter, Happy New Year!

  9. January 7, 2011 6:40 pm

    LOL! *I* would be one of those faint at heart. 😉 But I absolutely love that you gave your husband a gift that you would love equally as much. Classic.

    Good to see you back! Hope you had a lovely Christmas and New Year’s!

  10. January 25, 2011 12:27 am

    Yeah, The Walking Dead came to our house too. We had to watch all the back episodes to get caught up.

    How cool that you are homeschooling! We did that for many years, but now my boys are older and on to highschool and university.

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