When I told people that I finished this book, they asked if it was any good and the only word I could find to describe it was devastating. And I sat at the computer for 20 minutes trying to write a review that didn’t include a spoiler. It’s still not coming easy.
This book is set in a post-apocalyptic America where zombies (the shuffling, moaning kind, not the super fast ones) attempt to feast upon the scattered living population while hillbilly mutants distil the zombies into chitin-inducing stimulants. And in the middle, a fifteen year old girl is trying to get redemption for her sins, but that redemption is following too close on her heels for her liking. And if you are not already racing off to beg, borrow or steal your own copy from that brief endorsement, then you are dead to me (with a pencil shoved into your brain via your nostril to make sure you stay that way).
The book has some quirks. Dialogue isn’t contained within quotation marks and at times it’s a little hard to tell if the main character, Temple, is talking to herself, someone else or just inside her own head. The technique adds to the ambiance of the novel however, and is worth taking the time to puzzle through. The speech patterns and dialect of the characters is also peculiar. It is how I imagine people would talk in post apocalyptic America where only the strong and ruthless survived and then spent a little too much time alone with only themselves to talk to. The only inconsistency I found was that Temple is illiterate and was raised in an orphanage and in foster care before setting out on the road, but her speech is peppered with words and ideas far above what you’d expect for her position.
The book is full of lofty ideals slightly twisted by the fact that there are zombies staggering around trying to eat people. Temple believes in God, a god “too big to need the supplication of the puny wanderers of the earth”. She believes in fate and beauty and revenge. And she tries, in her own way to live up to these beliefs, taking the mute Maury across country to find his family despite the fact that it leaves her open to danger. It’s a novel about the hope of humanity in a country fallen to ruin. And at the same time, the book is a judgment on mankind’s ability to fall back onto base instinct. The ‘slugs’ retain enough memory to hold hands, to climb aboard a still-moving carousel, to endlessly repeat actions they made while alive. They are still human, and yet not. They are driven by a hunger which pushing them forward constantly, despite threat or futility. The want to feed. The need for flesh. Mindless and craving.
The book describes my ideal apocalypse, if ever an apocalypse could be considered ideal. Slow moving zombies are only dangerous if you stay still long enough to have them mob you or if they take you by surprise. Temple has her gurkha knife, but there is no shortage of guns and ammunition left by evacuees. And she picks up 6 packs of coke in abandoned corner shops all across the country. If we must suffer a government-released zombie virus that heralds the end of the world, sign me up to be a reaper.