Mark Swain is a friend of Leeds Book Club and writes short fiction here! A huge fan of the horror genera, this is the first time he's reviewed for us - hopefully the first of many!
You can also drop him a line on twitter as @DemonHeadClash
In this story the author deals with his protagonist surviving a zombie outbreak by acting like one of the undead. Although it slightly reads as a list of instructions in how to act and, more importantly, how not to react, the writing style is never done in a matter of fact manner and therefore the reader connects with the protagonist.
Whilst this might sound a difficult style to follow - given the author is the narrator but also story teller - it works well here and allows the writer to give us an insight into what is going on around the protagonist and also his back story.
Clearly given the main character is acting like a zombie in order to 'fit in' and survive then this story does have it's fair share of visceral imagery but none of it which I would say is over the top and actually adds to helping us paint a picture of this person’s desperate situation. Anyone who doesn’t get a slight pain in their legs when reading the line about rotted away tendons isn’t human!
Having read the story I can see a great deal of themes emerge which are the staples of zombie fiction - loneliness; dealing with loss and facing death to name but three. However this story deals with other issues which are unique to this tale.
I certainly got the feeling that the author was trying to convey a warning regarding how changing yourself for others can force you in difficult positions. Obviously in this piece the character wanders from horrible situation to horrible situation but the
same message could be applied to our modern, faceless society.
The other aspect is the character's approach to the zombies. He has clearly been through, and seen, a lot since he discovered he can pretend to a zombie and in doing so seems to identify with them, a sort of Stockholm Syndrome if you will. In the beginning of the tale the character points out that the zombies are never referred to as zombies simply as 'those Bastards'. However half way through the story having described a particularly nasty bus explosion he states 'you’d feel that the Living were silly bastards’ which seems to indicate the character feels the same about the zombies as he does about the living, we see another indicator towards this mind set when the character states later on that he might eat rat poison by mistake one day and he might
not even notice his own death or ‘maybe it has already happened’. However close to the end the author again refers to the zombies as 'Bastards' indicating there is a battle going on within this person; the part of him which is prepared to do anything to
survive and the part which wants to admit his own humanity.
The brilliance of this story is that it deals with a lot of the themes that we see in zombie fiction without pushing any of them too much and allow the reader to not only enjoy the story but also have an insight into this person's psyche.
The story makes the point that, put under pressure, we are prepared to do anything to survive and after a while that behaviour becomes normal and acceptable. And that is the real horror.
Dead Like Me is available for free online here and is part of 'The Living Dead' anthology as edited by John Joseph Adams.
Review 05 - Under St Peter's
Review 04 - Death and Suffrage - Dale Bailey