Saturday, January 9, 2010

Random meditations on Road Trip of the Living Dead

Another notable book I read on my winter blog break: Road Trip of the Living Dead by Mark Henry, the second in series about the notorious Amanda Feral, zombie fashionista. Whoa!

Road Trip is a weirdly entertaining combination of gore, violence and startling humor alongside surprising kindnesses and vivid characters. And on the level of the sentence, it's studded with brilliant gems. Like an insane and raunchy pirate's treasure chest.

Being the writing style wonk I am, I really got into the fun inventiveness here. (FYI: if you don't have a hidden streak of teenage boy lurking deep inside you somewhere, you may not think it's as funny and cool as I did.)

Deep thoughts
But more, Road Trip made me really think about monster/paranormal first person heroines (or heroes). In my UF reading experience, first person heroines--fae, vamps, shifters, whatever--tend to operate within my Midwestern American middle class ethical standards.

For example, when I look at another heroine I really enjoy, Succubus Georgina Kincaid, she does "bad" deeds to some extent, but her reasoning process feels normal and good. Even when she is having sex with some guy and sucking out his soul for eternal damnation, it feels right in a certain way, like she has no choice, or the guy deserves it.

Or there's Anita Blake, who famously worries aloud sometimes if she's becoming as big a monster as those she hunts (I've often wondered if that's actually Laurell K. Hamilton talking). Or, I think about Dexter who of course chops people up--while they're alive--but the show plot goes through contortions to make it feel like a good idea. Frankly, I think a lot of writers stress out about their first person heroines/heroes not being moral enough. I know I stress about it. A lot.

Mr. Mark Henry apparently does not stress out about this. Which is something that makes this book different and good.

Zombie Amanda Feral looks at children in cars as snacks, or gleefully eats homeless guys - because they're less likely to be missed, so there's less chance of trouble for her. (Of course, she also eats guys who deserve it, too, but her staple is the homeless.) Road Trip takes a deep monster point of view--Amanda Feral's thoughts and actions are more alien and, well, more monstrous, than any other UF heroine I've read. I can't say how much I enjoyed that!!

You just get plunged into this zombie's head, her culture, and this is her world and this is what zombies do and how she thinks, and she's not trying to be like a human. It made me realize that I got used to monster heroines more or less reflecting my values, and what's up with that? This constant consideration added a cool dimension to the experience.

Sympathy, comedy
But at the same time, I had a ton of sympathy for Zombie Amanda. She is incredibly three-dimensional and vulnerable, which makes her likable. It's an intense combo, like when you eat that kind of chocolate that has hot spice in it.

Reading this brought to mind an interview I heard with the Farrelly brothers, who made the movie Dumb and Dumber. They were talking about this part where the Jim Carey character sells a dead bird as a pet to a blind boy, and they said they knew that would push the envelope of the audience sympathy, so they put this scene in before it where Carey's character got evicted and lost his job, just to create sympathy balance.* It worked. And it works here.

You have Amanda raunching around as a zombie, but then she is suddenly going all out to help her friends (albeit grudgingly), or yearning for her mother's approval (buried in tons of snark) and she's achingly human again. And bad people are after her, too, which always helps.

Excerpts. Here, a scene from a skinhead bar that Amanda and her friend Wendy attack:
To my left, Wendy had taken out the gorilla's genitals and abdomen, leaving him looking like a cartoonish bow-legged cowboy, albeit dripping with blood. In the next instant, she tore into the closest guy, snapping his head clean off before he had any awareness of what was happening.
Some workers and patrons turn zombie:
The bartender dragged his legless torso from behind the bar, a swath of intestines draped from his mouth like a gory handlebar moustache - never a good look.
Amanda on a recent sexual encounter:

Granted, that last time with Martin didn't end so well--unless you're looking at it from the perspective of a black widow...
Here, Amanda is off to rescue some pals and has a horrible fall in a cavern:
I tried moving my arms, which although sore didn't seem to be broken. My legs worked, too. I must not have been that far off the ground after all. Standing tentatively, an awful crunching sound echoed though the space, followed by a wet sucking sound. One of my lungs had been punctured. When I looked down, I could see a thin piece of bone protruding from my shirt, surrounded by a thick yellow and gray ooze. [...]

Despite the obvious horror of this, it didn't feel too bad. The rib ached, sure, but had I been alive that lung would have kept me down.

I reached up and slid the rib back into place, cringing at the sloppy goo that dropped out in the process, but otherwise proud. A quick unbuttoning of my blouse and tying it off just under by chest seemed to do the trick.
Cringing at the sloppy goo but otherwise proud? LOL. Also, I love how Mark Henry thinks through the zombie existence on a physical level. Later this little bit of really nice description, perfectly in Amanda's voice:

Stalactites or mites or whatever stretched from floor to ceiling in columns resembling streaked bacon.
I actually think the zombie gore and grossness (red alert: there is a ton of it here) obscures the fact that Road Trip is a deceptively well-written book. For example, this last little excerpt: stalactites do look like streaked bacon, and leave it to a zombie to relate things to meat. RTOTLD also featured a character journey that was subtle, satisfying and unexpected. Amanda Feral coming to something. But in a zombie way.

Book #1 , Happy Hour of the Damned, is being reissued in mass market form in January, followed by this one, Road Trip, in February. I'm glad to see this; I like the idea of these in mm better than in trade. Get more info and excerpts here.
Kissing photo: Zombie Love by Jeremy Keith.
*Thanks to my fab sister in law Pam aka @LegendarySucker for reminding me of this Dumb & Dumber fact!


Chris said...

You almost suckered me in there, but... no, no, can't do zombies.

KT Grant said...

I disliked this book so much because of the amoral heroine who eats people due to her zombie ways and the horrible potty humor that is in no way shape or form funny.

Yes, blunt honesty from me.

Hilcia said...

I've always drawn the line at zombies when it comes to "other" characters in PNR and UF, lol! I don't what it is about them that just don't.. hmm.. do it for me. The heroine in RTOTLD sounds funny, scary, snarky & the perfect UF heroine (eating habits and all) -- but a zombie? Hmm... I don't know CJ!

Penny Watson said...

Great review, Carolyn! You have piqued my interest. Do you think zombie paranormal will get as popular as vampires?

Carolyn Crane said...

Chris: Well, there IS a hot zombie sex scene. Srsly.

KB: LOL. No zombie luv for you!

Hilcia & Penny: I think a lot of people draw the line at zombies! I don't think they'll ever be as popular as vamps.

Rebecca @ DSB said...

Hi Carolyn - It takes a unique kind of sick mo-fo to get this book, and all I can say is, welcome to the club! It's nice to read about someone else who appreciates Mark Henry's unique brand of humor. It's been quite a while since I read this book, but the scene with Amanda and the hobo guy in the Winnebago still busts my gut. This is one of the rare books that got me to laugh out loud.

Your write up was great, and it touched on a lot of what makes this book special, in addition to the humor.

Lea said...

Hi Carolyn:

Sounds like this book provoked a full range of thoughts and reactions!

I think it is also safe to assume this story is not for the "faint of heart".. lol yikes..

Thanks for sharing

orannia said...

You almost suckered me in there, but... no, no, can't do zombies.

What Chris said :) zombies for me!

Katie Reus said...

Despite my love of zombie movies (b/c the zombies usually die), I doubt I'll ever read this book. Like Katiebabs said, I can't get on board w/ a super amoral heroine. I liked your analysis of it though :) Very thoughtful!

Mark Henry said...

Wow! Really appreciate your dissection! What I think is super interesting about going with an "amoral" character is that it's divisive (as you can see from the comments). What people love about the book and what others hate are usually exactly the same thing.


Unknown said...

I think you should check out Zombie Haiku, if you haven't discovered it yet - it's the story of a man's transition from living human to zombie, in haiku form! Brilliant!