Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: ALL TOGETHER NOW: A ZOMBIE STORY by Robert Kent

WARNING: This weeks' Young ADULT novel is mean and nasty and intended for a mature audience. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers. It is a gruesome, repugnant tale sure to warp young minds. Seriously.

First Paragraph(s): I'M NOT A BAD WRITER, but I'm amazing with a baseball bat, which is why I'm still alive to write this.
     I get mostly A's in English, or at least I did before the school burned down. Two summers ago my short story "Raccoon Avenger" was published in the Harrington Herald.
     I just wanted you to know this story isn't going to suck.
     It might suck.
     I'm not exactly writing it under ideal circumstances. We don't dare turn on a flashlight. I'm writing this by moonlight on the floor so they won't see me through the windows.

That's right, Esteemed Reader. I picked my own book as the Book of the Week. Make sure you come back next week when I'll be giving myself the most handsome blogger award:) 

Obviously, I'm not actually going to review my own book, but that's okay. As I (almost) never comment on a book's shortcomings, I don't really review books here anyway. I talk about writing and advertise authors. Usually I tell you about a book's story and fumble around guessing why the author made some of the choices they did. 

Well, this week I don't have to guess. This is the one book about which I can tell you exactly why the author made the choices he did (unknowable subconscious motivations aside). I can even tell you the author started every writing session on this book listening to Johnny Cash sing "I See a Darkness" because it helped, ya know, see the darkness:) I can't tell you if the author made the right choices or if the book works--that's not for me to say. But obviously, I love this book. It's a story I crafted with you in mind, Esteemed Reader, because I thought you'd like it.

Actually, you might not like it. I have no doubt there will be readers who find this book offensive and disturbing, and hopefully, it is. My worst nightmare is someone reading my entire story and having no reaction. I want your heart. I want the reader to laugh, cry, hate me, be mortified, be offended--anything but passive indifference. I want your heart:

     Levi and I flanked him.
     I had my lucky baseball bat, but Levi carried an axe, so I let him take the first swing, and the second, both aimed at the thing's legs. The blows were intended to disarm (disleg?) rather than kill.
     The zombie crumpled to his knees, his white eyes never leaving my face, his craven moan never changing pitch, his one remaining arm stretched toward me.
     Levi hacked at that arm and I swung my metal bat straight into the zombie's forehead, like hitting a baseball off a batting tee.
     Though the bottom half of his one arm now hung by the thin membrane of skin Levi hadn't severed, the zombie still had both biceps raised toward me.
     I brought the bat down again. When I raised it, it was covered in the same blackish red that sprayed from his head in a fine mist.
     The zombie convulsed.
     I swung the bat one last time and when it connected, the thing's skull made a loud cracking sound like an ice-weighted branch snapping. The impact traveled up the bat and stung my hands.
     The zombie went limp and silent.
     Levi wiped his axe on his purple "New Life Christian Church" T-shirt, then dropped it to his side and kept walking.
     I should've kept walking, but I didn't.
     Maybe it was the clothes the zombie was wearing: brown slacks, a blue and black striped polo shirt, and black dress shoes, as though he'd been at a church supper. Maybe it was the wedding band on his left hand.
     I knelt beside the corpse and rooted in his pocket until I found his wallet.
     According to his license, this man had been Gary Boyer. He had four credit cards, a gym membership, and a photo from his human days. He was standing with a woman, two small children, and Donald Duck in front of that giant golf ball in Epcot.
     "Are you coming?" Michelle asked as she passed.
     I couldn't speak just then, so I dropped the wallet and got to my feet.

Fifteen-year-old Ricky Genero is writing a journal of the zombie apocalypse. His high school has burned to the ground,  most everyone he's ever known is either dead or a shambling corpse roaming the earth in search of human flesh, and his best friend died saving his six-year-old brother Chuck from a zombie horde. When Chuck is bitten and infected with the zombie virus, Ricky must travel among the walking dead in search of a cure.

Originally, the title of the book was simply A Zombie Story. Don't try to church it up, Kent, I told myself. I wanted a straightforward tale about zombies that would be the book I wanted to read if someone else had written it. As a long-time zombie fan, I wanted standard-issue, slow-moving dead people that follow all the traditional tropes of the genre, and I wanted to take them seriously.

Also, for me there's no sneaky calling them "infected," "frenzied," "walkers,"  "unconsecrated," or any of those other fancy words authors use when they're pretending to discuss something more highbrow than zombies. I'm not re-inventing the wheel here and no one's going to give me an award for originality, but I do feel I was able to work within genre to bring readers some fresh ideas about zombies I haven't read elsewhere. For Ricky, zombies are in the world for the first time, but for the reader, I'm painting fresh blood on an old corpse:)

There's a theme that emerges in the tale and a metaphor for social life and plenty of symbolism and satire, and that stuff is all good and well, but I did my best to keep it contained and to keep it light instead of heavy. I wrote that stuff for the second read, assuming anyone bothers. Your first time through, Esteemed Reader, I don't want your brain. I want your heart. That other stuff is meant to haunt the reader later when the book is done and it's time to try and sleep--it's philosophical horror:)

The book is meant to be a fast, fun read. For this reason, the chapters of All Together Now: A Zombie Story are short as is the book (around 200-250 pages, depending on format) and the pace is mostly frantic:

     At least this will be a short book. There are only 300 pages in this journal and there's a good chance I won't live long enough to fill them all. So if this story should just stop somewhere in the middle, you'll know I didn't make it.
     Or maybe I lost this journal. Let's hope it's that.

First and foremost, I want to show Esteemed Reader a good time. There is no shortage of people being chased and killed and most of the book is devoted to scenes like this one:

     "They'll pass," I whispered. "We wait."
     But they didn't sound like they were passing. I could hear their steps on the cement outside as they shambled past the gas pumps.
     I wanted to lift my head to the glass, peek out just enough to see what they were up to, but I kept my cheek pressed to the cold tile floor.
     They moaned in unison, the sound of each harmonizing with the moans of the others so I couldn't tell if the moans were coming from three zombies, or five, or ten. All I knew for sure is they were on the other side of the door.
     At first I thought it was the sound of a gun, but then it happened again, just above me.
     "Sh—" Michelle slapped a hand to Levi's mouth before he could say more.
     A corpse's palm smacked against the window glass, fell away, and smacked again.
     A second hand smacked the glass, closer to the entrance. Then a third hand started on the other side of the door, so all three hands were smacking in unison.
     Michelle bit the fingers on her left hand, but in her right hand our one gun was trained on the glass.
     I tightened my grip on my bat.
     WHAM!!! WHAM!!! WHAM!!! WHAM!!!
     The glass wavered, rippling with each smack, but didn't break.
     WHAM!!! WHAM!!! WHAM!!! WHAM!!!

All Together Now: A Zombie Story contains some sexual content, references to drug use, and a whole bunch of zombie violence (some of it set in a daycare center).  There's absolutely no swearing (in a book about fear of conformity, the language conforms), but I wouldn't let my kid read it. If you take nothing else away from this "review," know that this is a story for adults and teenagers who've already seen worse on television.

Obviously, I have more to say about this book. We haven't even touched on the creepy Christians that show up late in the story. For me, religious satire fits perfectly in a tale about the dead rising and I couldn't imagine a zombie apocalypse set in a small Indiana town not involving a church. As Ricky tells us: 

     You can't throw a stone in Indiana without hitting a church. We'd only just left Levi's church yesterday.
     "We still going to Kirkman's?"
     I nodded. There were at least four churches I knew of between Ernie's and the Kirkman Soda plant. We were traveling in God's country.

All the same, I think we better call it a review.  If you're curious, you can also read the first 14 chapters free here.  If you're looking for a scary story this Halloween and you read this blog, why not give me a shot at terrifying you?

If you'd like to hear me ramble more about the merits of my own book (why wouldn't you?), I'll be posting an over-long and supremely smug Afterword later this week in which I'll discuss the process of writing the book and some of the techniques I employed in agonizing detail (as some of the most popular posts on this blog are me rambling about editing, I'm going to give the people more of what they seem to want). I'll even chat a bit about religion and how I love religious people and God, but am wary of overzealous dogma. 

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from my own book (stomach rolls over in disgust) All Together Now: A Zombie Story:

     The corpse gnawed (spoiler)'s right arm, loose white flesh spreading out on either side of his mouth like the skin of fried chicken.

     Not far from them was Maggie Evans. She was smiling at me in a way I knew meant if I'd gone to her she might've let me get to first base. She had eyes as green and lush as a rainforest.
     I saw one of them sucked from its socket and eaten in the back of the chemistry lab not too long ago. The creamy pale skin of her face with just the perfect scattering of freckles was torn away by the teeth of Mary Beth Kerr, her best friend.

     Ben raised his bat and brought it down on a kid no older than four.
     "Don't kill them!" Dad cried, but by then Ben was braining his second toddler. (somewhere my Mom is proud--MGN)

     I stopped to look into the nursery.
     A little girl lay in the center of the room, whimpering. Her head was bent at an unnatural angle. I couldn't see how she was still alive, but she was crying—not snarls and moans, but human crying.
     Something important was obviously broken as she wasn't moving her arms or legs beyond a twitch. If she could've got up, she would've.
     There were two babies dressed in shirts and diapers on her chest, protruding like growths, their faces buried in the bloody meat of her arm. I doubt they had teeth, but they were licking at her blood and feasting on her in some way.
     Their moans were quiet and content.
     They looked up at me, their eyes bright white, seemed to decide they weren't big enough to bring me down, and went back to the meal they had.
     At the girl's foot was a teddy bear as big as she was, and behind it a rocking chair beside a crib. A small, dead hand curled over the top of the crib, not strong enough to pull whatever was attached to those tiny digits into a standing position. (Am I nervous about becoming a father? Why do you ask? --MGN)

     When I finish this chapter, I'm going to post this journal online so it can never be destroyed. No matter what happens to me, my story is intact and waiting to be read. I'm in these pages and can never be destroyed.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: All reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own. 

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