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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Forget the Red Coats... the Zombies are Coming!!

Sure, you consider yourself a broad-minded person, but let’s be honest... no matter how enlightened you may be, it’s almost impossible to feel warm fuzzies toward zombies. That whole “I-want-to-catch-you-and-eat-your-braaaaain!” thing (not verbalized, of course--it’s awfully hard to talk when your own brain is nothing but mush and your lips have long since rotted away--but made abundantly clear via the grasping hands and gaping mouth holes) pretty much precludes anyone “normal” (and living) forming a close and personal relationship with a member of the walking (and putrifying) dead.

Or so I thought, anyway, until I (woo-hoo!) gleefully stumbled upon Scott Kenemore’s Zombie, Ohio: A Tale of the Undead... and what must be the most unusual take on zombies, ever.
Peter Mellor is a popular college professor at a small university out in the middle of Nowhere, Ohio. (Yes, obviously the little town actually has a name, but the point is, it’s not important.) A handsome and charming (if increasingly-dissolute) fellow, he’s the sort that women of all ages flirt with, while other men simply like him too much to be jealous.
Not that poor Peter is in any condition to boast of his past successes or worry about his current problems, though; when we pick up the story, he’s just coming to after a very nasty collision between himself (in his car) and a sturdy oak tree, with no recollection of anything which has just transpired, let alone who or where he is.
Only after stumbling through the snow to a nearby hamlet--where the few people he runs across recognize him and call him by name--does he learn his identity. And, once his predicament is apparent, they naturally proceed to fill him in on the other particulars of his life... plus a whole lot more.
It seems they’re in the midst of a nationwide zombie apocalypse--yes, Peter, those ghastly creatures straight out of George Romero movies really do exist--and the monsters are just as deadly as advertised. Furthermore, the only ways to avoid a decidedly-unpleasant fate at their decaying hands are, short-term, to outrun them (not too difficult, really, barring decrepitude or some physical handicap which puts a hitch in your giddy-up), or, as a more permanent solution, to completely sever the connection between what’s left of their brains and their bodies (shooting them, then lopping off their heads works nicely).
It’s certainly a grisly task--not to mention horrifying, when facing down a creature he used to know in a considerably more-robust state--but really, what choice does he have? It’s survival of the fittest (the least-squeamish, anyway), kill-or-be-eaten-alive, and every human for himself... until Peter makes an even-more shocking realization. (Like waking up to find the world overrun by so-called “moving cadavers” isn’t the absolute high point on the shock-o-meter?? Well, no, actually, turns out it’s not.)
Peter, you see, wasn’t merely lying unconscious beneath that old oak tree. As the gaping hole which he discovers hidden beneath his winter hat--a hole exposing his own grey matter (erm... yum?)--makes apparent, he is himself a newly card-carrying member (if they carried cards) of the brain-munching horde. The walking dead. One of the moving cadavers. A zombie.
After having recently observed--and killed--a few of them under the quick tutelage of the helpful townsfolk, though, he also realizes that he’s nothing like the rest of his “kind”. Where the other zombies are molasses-slow, awkward, lumbering, incoherent, stupid monsters... he isn’t. He can walk (even run, albeit somewhat less gracefully than in his prime), talk, and pass for a normal human. For alive.
As the reality of his altered existence begins to sink in, Peter grasps two things with utter clarity. First, there is no way he can continue among the living. Small changes are already making themselves apparent; sooner of later, someone would surely catch on to the fact that he was more than just a little “off”. The second thing he realizes is that his accident was no “accident”.

What follows, then, is Peter’s journey into the wilds of Ohio (teehee)... from leaving his old life (including a buddy and a girlfriend) behind and learning how to be a zombie (hey, eating brains for the first time is just another one of those “firsts” to be gotten through... right??), to figuring out how to interact with others of his kind (even becoming zombie royalty)... but always, uncomfortably aware that he belongs to neither world entirely. 
And, with each new day bringing another threat to his existence--hungry animals amenable to snacking on some zombie flesh, the random gun-toting homeowner who stayed behind to protect his land, gangs of ex-bikers-cum-zombie-hunters looking for a little fun, and plenty of military intrusions, as they strafe the zombies from above and scatter troops below--Peter finds himself asking with increasing frequency, “Who am I, now... and why on earth am I so different?”.   
This book could have gone in so many directions; happily, though, author Kenemore strikes a spot-on perfect balance between humor and horror, murder mystery and sci-fi... even, somehow, pulling off a touching little love story amidst the gore fest. He sucked me in from the get-go, then had me alternating between laughing, wincing, thinking, and feeling for this unfortunate man (a lot of unfortunate souls, actually) for the duration. 
Whether you like your zombie stories with extra “Braaaaaaaaaaaains!!” or prefer a more thought-provoking take on what it means to be who/what we are, Zombie, Ohio has something for everyone... and it's left me wanting more.


GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  All the Enthusiastic (Ragged, Played-to-Death-with) Mousies there are!!

[Note: I actually read this book several months ago, just after it was released... then life--work, holidays, and just too-much stuff--intervened, delaying what I wish I could have shared with everyone then. Hopefully, this review does it a fraction of the justice it so deserves.]