“ADDICTED TO THE DEAD” (Book Review)
Okay. Because getting eaten alive by the hungry undead isn’t weird enough — it has, in fact, become “the new normal” of horror – some radical innovations are clearly in order.
In one of my favorite horror novels of the last umpteen years —2010’s THE LOVING DEAD, by Amelia Beamer — the zombie plague is a sexually-transmitted disease. And while that may seem like good clean horny fun walking in — the main characters are a couple of frisky, ungrounded 20-somethings working at a Trader Joe’s in Oakland — it rapidly deepens into an intimately paranoid and terrifying chaos that sinks way deep beneath the skin, even as it explodes all around you. As such, it’s a pretty great fucking book.
And now comes ADDICTED TO THE DEAD, Shane McKenzie’s latest frenzied addition to the New Pulp explosion going down in the small press hardcore horror underground. And though he’s working far less sophisticated ground than Beamer, his ideas are no less shocking or striking.
In McKenzie’s berserk truth-in-advertising fable, the zombie apocalypse has American society devolved to its third-world shittiest form. Criminals blatantly, violently run everything. The more psychotic they are, the more powerful they are. Everyone else has next to nothing. This is all par for the course.
But here’s the twist: the only way to keep from coming back from the dead is to eat the flesh of freshly-killed zombies. It’s also the only meat available to the living, if they can afford it. All the animals are pretty much gone.
But if you eat that undead meat — still wriggling under the cellophane at your local meat dispensary — you’ll get strung out on it. It’s like undead heroin. It wastes you away, even as it addicts you so hard that you’ll do anything to scarf another writhing bite.
At which point, the zombies are the least of your worries. You want to eat them more than they want to eat you.
And if someone you love is undead — but still more sentient and soulful than the living junkies drooling as they try to gnaw her meat right off the bone — you’ve got a lot to grapple with.
Especially if you’re only nine years old.
And here’s the weirdest, profoundest twist that McKenzie throws on the whole goddam thing. Though half the story is spent with a stone-cold killer named Calico, observing and participating in the worst that humanity has to offer — snuff films, zombie rape, ugliness beyond measure — the other half is devoted to a couple of sweet little Mexican kids named Paco and Sophia, doing everything they can to hang onto each other, and all that is best about humanity. Even after one of them is dead. And the whole world has gone to shit around them.
This juxtaposition is sharply played in relentless back-to-back transitions between Calico’s hellscape and those two poor kids, until (of course) these worlds collide in the best/worst possible way. Like a YA novel with graphic skullfucking.
Does this sound alarming? GOOD! Cuz it really, really is. Like no other writer working today that I can think of, Shane McKenzie is pitting pure heart and genuine childlike innocence against the nastiest transgressive shit on the market. The writing is crude but relentlessly energetic and imaginative, with a pure punk momentum I can’t help but admire. He is, right now, my favorite one-man literary garage band.
Do I think this book is as good as THE LOVING DEAD? No. But you may disagree, and would not be wrong to do so. It’s the difference between Chuck Palahniuk and Richard Laymon: hyper-literate vs. meat-and-potatoes. In the end, you’re gonna like what you like.
That said — and all howls of heresy pre-noted — I’ll take McKenzie over Laymon any day of the week. His ideas are wilder, his social conscience waaaaay the fuck greater, and he punches every bit as hard. Right now, I’d put him on a track to challenge the ground between Bentley Little and Brian Keene, in the modern horror sweepstakes.
Not quite up to that level. But closing in fast. And that’s saying a lot.
For more on Shane McKenzie, see John Skipp’s review of MUERTE CON CARNE here. ADDICTED TO THE DEAD sold out its initial limited hardcover release from Thunderstorm Press. It will be out from Dark Regions Press this October.