Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Zombie Novels

There is some beautiful writing at the beginning of Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth:

"My mother used to tell me about the ocean.  She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing toward you and then away."

As I paged through the first chapter at a bookstore, I was hoping for an all-ages classics, like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.   I decided to buy it.

It is, as a matter of fact, a zombie novel.  No one let me in on this.  Laura Miller in "Fresh Hell," an article in The New Yorker, promoted Ryan's novel as a Y.A. dystopian novel.  She expressed much interest in this new dark trend and speculated that youth today were more alienated than others. (Go figure:  we had Catcher in the Rye, they have zombies.)  Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games made the list, along with Catherine Fisher's Incarceron and James Dasher's The Maze Runner

I enjoyed The Hunger Games and Incarceron, fast, fun novels with likable heroes and heroines and a few real questions about ethics and power,  but Carrie Ryan's formulaic novel is not of that class.  It seemed immediately to escape the author's control, turning into a formulaic zombie movie in book form. Think 28 Days Later crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Richard Matheson's I Am Legend--and I am already under the covers.  Except that Mary, the narrator of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, is a rather anemic heroine, trained to use weapons against zombies but essentially too romantic not to lean on boys and breaking down at crucial moments. Ryan doesn't bother much with the style.

The plot is fast.  Mary, the imaginative narrator, grows up in a village surrounded by a fence.  The zombies, known as the Unconsecrated, infect human beings by their bites.  Mary's  mother becomes a zombie on page 7 while Mary is flirting with Harry by the river. Mary becomes an outcast.  The Sisters, a group of secret-loving nuns who know the true history of the world, shelter her for a while after her mother "turns"--her mother chooses to become a zombie rather than to die.  Although Mary is badly treated by the Sisters, she learns that the nuns have contact with the outside and that a young woman named Gabrielle has come in from the outside with news.  Unfortunately, Gabrielle turns into a super-zombie.

if only Ryan had developed the link between Mary and Gabrielle.  Mary very much identifies with this girl-turned-unconsecrated, but, like so much of this book, it leads nowhere.  The book itself goes nowhere.  On the last page, in the middle of an adventure, the book ends.  We have no choice but to buy Book 2 if we want to know what happened to Mary.

This is like a serialized novel of the 19th century, only I paid $9.99 for it and was expecting an ending.  Not even an attempt to wrap it up.

Sorry, can't support this.

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