Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Breathers: A Zombie's Lament

Breathers: A Zombie's Lament rides in on the undead coat tails of Max Brooks' World War Z, and anyone enjoying that book ought to be delighted with this one.
A delicious black comedy, its witty prose had me in stitches practically the entire time I read it. And let's be honest. With the wild influx of vampire novels lately, it is rather refreshing to have a book solely dedicated to the rotting flesh of the zombie.

Poor Andy. All he wants is a little respect. A bit of common courtesy isn't asking too much, right? He didn't mean to wake up in the mortuary and wander off just twelve hours prior to his funeral. And he can't help it he's a zombie.
After all, his wife died in the car accident that maimed his left leg, rendered his left arm useless, and covered him with stitches that decorate his face like a road map. And damn, he can't help it he smells like decomposing flesh, has taken to sporting makeup, and wears a dry erase board around his neck in order to communicate with others because he lost his voice.

After his accident, his parents had to pick him up at the SPCA. He was caged like a forgotten animal, but these are the breaks in life for the undead. They paid to have him released and moved him into their wine cellar, where he samples expensive Cabernets and Chiantis ('cause white's just not his style) on a daily basis while watching reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger on his 32 inch TV and daydreams of a better, more meaningful life. (Life?)

Unable to see his daughter who thinks he died in the accident, Andy instead writes morbid haikus and attends Undead Anonymous group therapy. He has a regular cast of weirdo zombie friends, one of which - Rita - he has become entirely smitten with. Rita is a fairly recent suicide victim gone wrong, having woke up after slitting her wrists and throat and bleeding to death. (Guess we all can't be lucky enough to die even when we want to.) Andy watches Rita with great interest, intrigued by the turtlenecks covering her scars and the fact that she sucks fingernail polish off her freshly painted fingers just to get the formaldehyde flavor. And much to his great joy, it seems Rita has a hankering for him as well.
Meanwhile, Helen -the group therapist- continually puts forth phrases to support and encourage them, such as 'Find your purpose' and 'Accept your reality'.

Being a zombie is a dangerous predicament though, in particular when wandering the streets like some cast off from a George Romero movie. Generally, people repeatedly curse and throw food & drink at the undead on a regular basis - mostly just for fun. But on occasion, things devolve into violence and a zombie can be attacked and even dismembered. If one is lucky, perhaps only an arm will be stolen by a slap-happy frat boy.
Andy soon becomes disillusioned with his mundane existence and wants to prove there is more to him than rotting flesh.

While in the midst of a "zombies are people too" campaign, he meets Ray.
Ray, also a zombie, treats him and his friends to a delectable delight he calls Ray's Resplendent Rapture. Canned venison, actually. But for some reason, it makes Andy feel better. Matter of fact, he and all his friends feel considerably more perky and have a bigger zest for life (so to speak) than they'd had before. Even Andy's voice begins to show improvement.
The group begins taking more chances - walking alone at night on the streets, going to a frat house to retrieve a lost limb belonging to one of the group, and Rita and Andy begin a clandestine affair that turns their whole world around.

Breathers is outright funny - hilarious at times - but also has a poignancy you wouldn't dare expect in a book about zombies. Despite the fact that Andy is decomposing and looks like someone out of Dawn of the Dead, you find yourself ardently rooting for him. Hoping he can change his life and make a difference. Taking a chance that at some point, the undead will have the same rights as everyone else and not have to worry about taking a walk without having a Wendy's Frosty slung at them or be decapitated on a fraternity dare.
You, as the reader, dare to imagine him leading a normal existence and have happiness with Rita, his zombie lover.

Biting wit marries with emotional heartache and feelings of depression here. You find yourself feeling sorry for Andy. But he doesn't want you to. He wants someone to understand, and continually mentions this. "If you've never woke up under a sheet on an autopsy table, you probably wouldn't understand."
All he wants is to be afforded the same benefits as a living human breather. To have a life.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Hardly a page went by that didn't have a comic interlude that made me laugh out loud. But again, I felt so damn sorry for Andy at times -he felt like a brother to me.
I'll be anxious to see what else this author can come up with. His next novel is apparently a dark comedy about fate and destiny due out in November this year.

The author's website: S.G. Browne

Buy it here.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


Sarah from Scare Sarah said...

This sounds great!

B-Sol said...

I enjoyed this one quite a bit, even if it was slightly overhyped. Still, love the whole zombie love story angle. Can't wait for the movie!
P.S. Not to spoil anything, but did you think that the whole climactic frat house scene was a bit unnecessary and thrown in for the horror die-hards?

C.L. Hadden said...

B-Sol: Indeed, I thought the ending was rather contrived. Like they added a bit of a gross out factor there at the end. It didn't really fit in with the rest of the book.
Still a great read though...

Anonymous said...

Great book except for the ending! I have a review posted here: http://zombiesandtoys.blogspot.com/2009/11/breathers-zombies-lament-guest-review.html

Go Steelers!