“MUTE” (Book Review)
Leo, the protagonist of Jeffrey Hale’s MUTE (Grand Mal Press) is special. Born with the power of psychometry, he’s able to divulge past emotions and memories that may still resonate within objects or people. This talent, while admittedly handy, has gotten him locked up in a mental institution by folks not inclined to encourage psychic gifts.
Leo’s predicament turns out to be bit of a blessing: beyond the soothing white walls of Leo’s cell, society and infrastructure have disintegrated under the crushing wave of ‘mutes’, a mob of savage albino flesheaters retaining enough mental acuity to drive cars and strategize their hunts. When the mutes lay siege to Leo’s institution, he uses the confusion to escape into the nearby woods. There, he stumbles over a rusting, decrepit mail delivery truck, and maybe taking a cue from CAST AWAY (or worse, Kevin Costner’s THE POSTMAN), he decides that crossing the now-anarchic continent to deliver the several items of aged correspondence remaining in the rear of the truck will bring purpose and fulfillment to his post-apocalyptic existence.
Has “Zombie” really become that much of a dirty word? It feels like more and more writers and filmmakers are in a hurry to distance their work from the overexposure attendant with the dreaded ‘Z’ tag. They’d prefer to stamp down their own synonyms for anything to do with a mobile mass of cannibalistic corpses: Walkers, biters, the infected—now here we have “mutes” or “mimes.” Try as it may to shirk the label, MUTE is most definitely a zombie novel.
A few resolute survivors, pinballing around the glowing embers of a decimated America, hoping to skirt stealthily past herds of putrescent harriers and enclaves run by tinpot paramilitary fascists as they navigate ghost towns and infested countryside… any of this sounding familiar? If there’s any flavor yet to be chewed out of this particular wad of bubble gum, you won’t taste it here. MUTE operates with a minimum of plotting beyond the mail delivery quest and several short digressions as Leo’s ability feels out the origins of the letters. Thin characterizations and Hale confusing snippy bickering for real drama don’t help, nor does the trickle of a climax leading to an unsatisfying and open-ended conclusion (one that presumes a sequel or series to follow). Where Hale does demonstrate an undeniable knack is in his action scenes; the breakneck battles between Leo and the Mimes are rousing, surging, and paced at regular enough intervals to keep those pages flipping.
Less easy to bypass is MUTE’s text, riddled as it is with the pox that blights so much of indie press fiction—namely the only editorial oversight on the manuscript coming from Microsoft Word’s spell check function. Homonym flubs abound: “Dually” instead of “duly,” “stalk” instead of “stock”—and for the record, that famed golfer is named Jack Nicklaus, not “Nicholas.” These frequent typos are disconcerting and often have MUTE coming across less like a professional endeavor and more like a text message from an excited middle-schooler.
Without much meat on the bone plot-wise, MUTE is a book not quite saved by its passages of cracking action and would best appeal to readers who never seem to tire of the tried and true conventions of Zomb—oops, make that mute fiction.