Would it be a stretch to call it a Faulkner-esque zombie tale? From the start, Reapers quickly distinguishes itself in the zombie apocalypse genre. Temple, our heroine, has found herself a deserted lighthouse when she experiences the miracle of the fishes.
“She left the lighthouse and went down to the beach to look at the moon pure and straight, and she stood in the shallows and let her feet sink into the sand as the patter-waves tickled her ankles. And that’s when she saw it, a school of tiny fish, all darting around like marbles in a chalk circle, and they were lit up electric, mostly silver but some gold and pink too. They came and danced around her ankles, and she could feel there little electric fish bodies, and it was like she was standing under the moon and in the moon at the same time.“
Temple has learned, you see, that “God is a slick god” and that there are still miracles to be found in the world. She was born since the world changed and though she feels she has darkness in her past, the new world is kind of beautiful. It is an unusual perspective in apocalypse fiction, a genre which is usually preoccupied with the horrific: the decline of civilization, the inhumanity of man, the bleakness of mere survival and the rise of the living dead. But the dead are just another kind of predator here. It is what it is, and zombies gotta do what they gotta do–behavior that is no worse than lions or wolves preying on the edges of the herd.
Our savvy and skilled heroine is delightfully self confident; she has no need to plan ahead for protection because she is so capable of coping with whatever comes. A zombie on her beach is a sign that tides and seasons will change access to her refuge. Confidently, without bravado, she leaves the lighthouse to head north, looking to see some sights. Unfortunately, in a group of city buildings taken over by survivors, she attracts the attention of the creepiest sort of guy. He tries a sneak attack, she kicks ass and soon his brother is tracking her, straight out of revenge fiction. She sees the fight as another sign of her general incompatibility with civilization, and decides to head north again. Brother follows her. On the way, she finds herself in an unaccustomed moment of pity and saves
Lenny a mentally challenged man with a pack of zombies trailing behind him. Having him in tow brings up a host of memories, and gives an opportunity to learn more about Temple’s past. As the book progresses, she continues to encounter a variety of situations that reflect the range of humanity’s adaptation skills, and its worth noting the Bell’s vision of the world does not entail humanity degenerating into Lord of the Flies (although I suspect we meet Miss Havisham).
The tone throughout is remarkable. It’s hard to encapsulate what about this book stood out for me, but part was the easy, factual tone, a sort of emotionally removed description that acknowledges horror but also contains beauty. It’s notable to find a heroine with a Zen state of being, general optimism, and lack of fear. Narration is in her inner ‘voice;’ while clearly undereducated, there is still subtlety of thought that lends subtext to her experiences. The narration highlights the changes in the world while giving her a sort of innocence.
A few comments on plotting that contain spoilers:
Of all the sections, the community that is experimenting with zombie juice was the least enjoyable. Perhaps if I read it again, the underlying theme would be more clear–perhaps it is how some people will embrace horror and use it as license for their own depravity. Regardless, it didn’t resonate the way her other sections do. The section where she is in a safety town and goes on a ‘date’ is particularly touching.
Then there is the ending, a complete kick in the head. While I don’t feel it changed the essential message of the book, it did highlight the limits of our ability to control the world. Emotionally, it packed a punch that left me reeling a bit; no less enjoyable, but all the more powerful for the ending.