By Craig DiLouie
Paperback: 296 pages
Publisher: Permuted Press
Pub date: February 22, 2011
Imagine if you will standard (almost) zombie fair – outbreak, unexplained violence, mass chaos, group of unlikely survivors banding together – only the story is somehow the unlikely lovechild of THE BREAKFAST CLUB and H. P. Lovecraft. In that description I offer praise, as well as some criticism. There is a lot to like here and the overall story and pacing engaged me as a reader. Some of what I found original was also some of what frustrated me, so make of that what you will.
The story starts with 20% of the world’s population screaming and then going into comas. A few days later they awaken and begin attacking the rest of the population. We then meet a group of survivors, and their stories are told in flashback as the novel progresses. This was handled well and the flashbacks even managed an organic, at times nightmarish, feel. We meet Ethan, the high school math teacher, dealing with his missing wife and child; Paul, the former reverend, who is searching for god; Anne, the most inscrutable character at first, who is carrying more baggage than most; Sarge, an Army man just back from Afghanistan and fighting a new war he understands even less; Wendy, a young cop from Pittsburgh unsure of herself; and Todd, a high school junior who seems to cope better than most because of his age and ability to disassociate and skill with FPS games. Together, they attempt to find safe haven and eventually flee Pittsburgh in Sarge’s Bradley tank as the city burns.
The survivors go against zombie movie conventions and attempt to take refuge at a hospital. It is here that the book kicks into high gear and deviates from the standard viral zombie storyline. At the hospital we learn that there are “things” now infesting the earth – worms, parasitic monkey-like creatures, and “demons.” The characters offer theories, but these are never explained and their “otherness” felt Lovecraftian to me. I couldn’t tell if I liked this and the possible explanation or if it was superfluous. Regardless, they are creepy. I mean, as if fighting deranged, infected humans wasn’t enough! Furthering the creep factor is that children aren’t infected – they are simply killed and eaten.
Each character has had his or her purpose in life destroyed or altered, and DiLouie attempts to show the characters as they struggle with this new reality. They each try and find reasons to live, knowing they have the very real option of just giving up. The individual characterizations were decent, especially given the amount of action in the book. It often seems that authors choose one or the other. In my option, action is meaningless if there is no investment in the characters.
It is dealing with who the characters were and who they are now, as well as the almost forced intimacy that steers this into THE BREAKFAST CLUB territory. I mean, we all know that they went back to ignoring each other on Monday, right? These characters had nothing in common before and the sense that they were one big family after two weeks felt contrived. As individuals, DiLouie put a great deal of effort into their characterizations. I wish he would have done the same with the individual and group dynamics.
This passage is a good example of what many of the characters are going through, “We try and live with as little pain and as much pleasure as possible. But pain makes us realize we are alive. We truly live one moment to the next when we live with pain. When pain stops, we become afraid. And we remember things that we do not wish to remember that are themselves painful.”
I am curious if there is a sequel planned and if certain things will be explained. Overall, this is a worthwhile addition to the genre.