In this summer’s Brains: a zombie memoir, Robin Becker tries to do for zombies what Anne Rice did for vampires in Interview with the Vampire back in 1976. By looking at the world from the monster’s point of view, both authors offer new and sympathetic perspectives. Although Becker’s zombie narrator, former college professor Jack Barnes, isn’t quite as fleshed out (sorry, I couldn’t resist) as Rice’s Lestat, the debut novelist succeeds in making her readers root for a shambling, slowly rotting corpse who makes his way across the Midwest along with a band of equally revolting pals, eating folks’ brains along the way.
When Barnes awakes in his basement after being bitten and infected, he discovers three important facts: Unlike the vast majority of the zombie hordes, he can think and write, though he cannot speak; he has an intense survival instinct; and he is obsessed with eating non-infected people, especially their brains. He starts with his unfortunate wife.
Barnes’ adventure starts in a rural Missouri town where he has taught English in a small college. He is headed for Chicago, the home of Howard Stein, the scientist whose experiment gone awry started the zombie menace. At first he hopes for a cure, but, as he becomes used to his new condition, he decides he must convince Stein that zombies and uninfected human beings can coexist. Zombies can chow down on the brains of convicted felons, among other things.
Along the way Barnes collects a motley group of fellow “super zombies,” each capable of thought and each with a unique power. Young Guts, so named because his intestines are leaking out, can run with amazing speed; Joan, a former nurse, uses her needle and thread to patch up the decomposing zombies and keep them from falling apart; Annie, like her namesake, Annie Oakley, is a sharpshooter of incredible talent; and Ros, a former soldier, can actually speak.
Becker’s road novel is as infective as a bite from a zombie, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes surprisingly insightful. Her narrator’s frequent references to zombie literature, cinema and legend complement his struggle to reach his goal and should delight readers with appropriate nostalgia.
Brains is a witty and fitting addition to a horror subgenre that has taken on a life (or not) of its own.
Mark Graham reviewed books for the Rocky Mountain News from 1977 until the paper closed its doors in February 2009. His “Unreal Worlds” column on science fiction and fantasy appeared regularly in the paper for over two decades. He has reviewed well over 1,000 genre books. If you see a Rocky Mountain News blurb on a book it is likely from a review or interview he wrote. Graham also created and taught Unreal Literature, a high school science fiction class, for nearly 30 years in the Jefferson County Colorado public schools.