I worked at a Border’s book store for two years right before the big box book sellers started their nose dive towards bankruptcy. In those two years the number of zombie books available was unbelievably small. It wasn’t until the very end of my time there that World War Z came out, so imagine my surprise when on a visit to the states this summer I wind up in a Border’s and on the new release table I find two zombie novels. I picked up Brains because it was a couple dollars cheaper and several hundred pages smaller then the other book. I thought it would be the perfect size to get me through an upcoming day of sitting in airports.
Right out of the gate I was a little intrigued and a little skeptical, a “zombie memoir?” I’m a zombie classicist. I prefer my zombies in the Romero vein, stupid, lumbering, brain hungry corpses. I once started a short story about a camera man who is bitten while his camera is recording but that’s as close to a zombie memoir as I could imagine. But in this novel, the zombie actually writes his own memoir. (This is the same zombie who lacks the dexterity needed to start a car.)
I know that the bulk of this write-up is going to sound a little crazy, “you can suspend disbelief enough to get into a book about zombies but this other stuff gives you fits?” Yes, yes it does. Let me clarify, I like the idea of a zombie memoir in that we are seeing the apocalypse through their eyes. I can see a person getting bit and writing about the process until they actually die and reanimate but I can’t buy the professor zombie who retains the ability to think and write.
Huge props to the author Robin Becker for exploring the zombie morality side of things. I love the comparisons to sharks that simply do what they do. They are simply designed to kill with no particular love or hatred towards their prey. That aspect of the novel was really cool and something that I had never thought of despite being a long time zombie fan. The whole slave to a biological imperative take on things was very fresh.
Unfortunately the novelty of the zombie point of view wasn’t enough to get me past the “what the heck” parts of the story. I might have eventually gotten behind the professor zombie but when he meets up with a former nurse who can’t help but patch up any zombie in her vicinity I was out. And the list of zombies with “special powers” continues to grow through out the book. There was the zombie kid who could think and move like a human, the two former soldiers with the ability to think and one of them could even speak, and the icing on the cake is the child born of a zombie mother who resembles a red-eyed, pointy-toothed devil. If I were somehow inclined to go along with the idea that a few zombies out of millions might somehow retained some of their human abilities how could I possible believe that they would all end up in the same place? It’s just too much for me.
My other complaint with the book is the tone. I really felt like the book suffered from either too much or not enough work shopping. On the one hand, I can see a group praising some of the witty, throw-away pop culture references. An author could easily think “if two cute literary references and one pop culture nod to Scooby-doo went over so well why don’t I squeeze eight references into the next paragraph?” Or the exact opposite could occur when writing in a vacuum (like blogging) since no one is around to step in and say “Jesus Christ, do you really need to reference eight super heroes and throw two Keats quotes into the same paragraph?” All in all it feels like the author is aware that she is “slumming it” as far as the subject matter goes and loads the book down with witty references to show you that she knows she’s above it. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a fun read. It moved along and was engaging. As I said before, I really liked the bits concerning the zombie’s view of his role in the (almost) destruction of the human race. This short 182 page book that I expected to read in a day’s travel ended up taking me almost three weeks to get through, and that’s not a good thing.
I’m a sucker for all things zombie so I’m not sorry I bought this book and believe me, I’ve read books on the subject that were much worse. I’m happy to add this to my zombie collection. I think in the end I’m too into the classic zombie and was unable to step out of that box and enjoy a new take on the genre.
I have to give this two out of five severed fingers.
Buy it from Amazon where it's also available for Kindle