Brains: a Zombie Memoir, Robin Becker, Eos, ISBN 978-0-06197405-2, 183 pgs., $13.99.
October 1, 2010 Leave a comment
Zombies seem to be the new vampires. I mean that it seems like these shambling undead have taken the spotlight in the supernatural fiction genre away from the bloodsuckers. Whether or not it will last remains to be seen. Zombies seem, to me at least, a hard sell character wise. But maybe Robin Becker has found a solution. Her idea is that in any typical Zombie outbreak there are bound to be at least a few zombies who retain an ability to think. Her choice for the book is one Jack Barnes, college professor. So, not only do we get a zombie that retains some ability to think (this is assuming you believe academics retain that ability to begin with) as well as some ability to analyze and adapt to the change. So, we have Jack Barnes, who is now zombie Barnes, trying to do three things: survive, find other zombie thinkers, and get to the guy who created all the zombie havoc in the first place, Howard Stein. The problem is that Stein is in an entirely different part of the country than Barnes and, what with his deteriorating body, a cross-country trip is going to be problematic. And that’s the basic idea of the book–following zombie Barnes as he tries to make his way to Howard Stein, the zombie God.
The basic problem with zombies is that they are dead things. This means they decay. And, depending on what sort of climate you are in, this decay can be rather rapid. The more important point is that they don’t breath and you need breath to make sounds or to talk. Becker gets around at least one of these issues by positing that there will be special zombies who retain some human skills. So, there is a nurse who remembers how to stitch (which comes in real handy when things start falling off) and a zombie who can run and another who retains a fast reaction time, and they all end up with Barnes, heading toward Chicago.
This book is all about balance. Balance between the inherent problems of zombies and story; balance between the stuffiness of the main character and the need to have an intelligent main character who can also chronicle events; balance between a need for a quest and a need to trivialize alternatives to a cross-country trip. For the most part the uniqueness of the idea keeps discrepancies to the side. I mean this may be the first zombie novel told from the perspective of the zombies.
Ultimately, though, this may simply be a one-off. Zombies just aren’t very sympathetic as characters. They eat babies, they chew through peoples faces, they fall apart at the most inopportune time, and they tend to be single-minded about who’s got the brains. I liked that book overall. It’s short which works to its advantage, it’s fairly fast paced, and it’s novel as a novel. Kudos to Becker for coming up with the idea and managing to actually put it into print.