For years we went steady, but this summer I broke up with zombies.
Me: It’s totally you. You’re just all over the place, and it’s pissing me off.
Zombies: Grrrrarrgghgbh *hand swipes*
Me: *shotgun* Me and my boomstick got better things to do, Zed.
Having settled that score, I moved onto the Post-Apocalypse.
Me: Goddamn but I’m just tired of the way people romanticize you.
Post-Apocalypse: It will be so nice! There will be no tacit caste system. You can stop being mad about people driving Lexuses while children live in soul-destroying poverty.
Me: Money is a made up idea. I don’t need an apocalypse, I need comprehensive tax reform. Maybe socialism. I need to move to Canada. *slinks off*
It was the result of a number of life changes. I had turned thirty. My dude was looking to get a real job. Reality had never seemed so real. I started to realize that, judging from the average age of the post-apocalyptic heroine, I was too old for that shit. Cue your sax solo. I got sick and had to come to terms with the fact that my body is a frickin’ fragile ecosystem. There are a few surgeries under my belt, and I’m unashamed to say I’m less into blood sport as a result. Despite my years of batting cage experience (I have a wicked swing) a few seasons of The Walking Dead have mostly destroyed my desire to hit zombies (or anything really) in the head. Mostly.
It’s a little bit of a tangent, but I will tell you the difference between baseball and The Walking Dead. Baseball fills me with a sense of joy and community. Its terms, familiar and loving, describe a team competition in which everyone’s goal is to “go home.” If you think it’s boring, you’ve failed to understand why sitting outside for hours drinking beer, enjoying the camaraderie of your fellow man while appreciating the most civilized sport is nice. That is to say you are wrong.
The Walking Dead is a blunt instrument that bludgeons you with its obvious disdain for any belief you might have that human beings are basically good. Every episode I watch drives me into a nihilistic funk. The show concerns a team competition where everyone’s goal is to not die or be tortured by a creep. Man is the real monster. Spoiler alert: Nobody wins. Christ, can I break up with that theme too?
I was ready for a change. I found myself reading more optimistic scifi and more macabre thrillers. To me, the enjoyment of consuming zombie media was tied up in my desire for a certain progress of well-tread horror plot emotional response. I wanted to fear, to run, to overcome. But that catharsis requires neither zombies nor a post-apocalypse.
The funniest part of this is that the book that got me back on zombies doesn’t offer the standard emotional plot structure I am accustomed to. In fact, Coulson Whitehead’s Zone One bears a very faint resemblance* to The Walking Dead, in that it questions the likelihood that the post-apocalypse would be the happy reset button utopia you were dreaming of. Reading on, what you are treated to is a gorgeous retreatment of the zombie post-apocalypse.
Zone One depicts a shattered America where everyone has a different “Last Night” story. For our protagonist/narrator Mark, Last Night was bursting into his parents’ room to find his mother eating his father’s guts out in a grotesque parody of another mortifying memory. He discovers them, in flagrante delicto, arrived home from a trip to Atlantic City, returning to his suburban home only to find the zombie apocalypse already in progress. May I add that Last Night is such a lovely and writerly touch, such a well-chosen phrase. I delighted in Whitehead’s prose, though of course, when a Macarthur fellow writes about zombies you are bound to wind up spoiled.
It’s a quick read, 272 pages that cover 3 days in Mark’s life as a “Sweeper,” part of a team of armed civilians working their way through a chosen section of Manhattan, cleaning up straggler zombies as they go. You can get it at your library.
Spoiler alert: There isn’t much in way of a catharsis, but maybe we all need to stop looking for those wherever the zombies are.
Stay well and stay well-read,
*Zone One reminds you that the post-apocalypse cannot be what you want it to be. The Walking Dead PUNISHES you for ever having been such a dummy as to want that in the first place.