So the diseased are stalking the earth, rending and devouring the flesh of the living. The hoarse, rattling wheeze of their undead breath heralds their appearance.
What do you do? What do you do?
Truth is, you die.
Courtney Summers is this wonderful, strange, funny young woman who writes tales that are tragic, operatic and true. True in that the emotions that run rampant through the characters in her novels feel very, very real. Courtney don’t do 1-dimensional. In fact, I think she might have a vendetta against cartoony, one-note characters.
Her most recent novel, This Is Not A Test is her first book to step outside of the world we know and take a step into fantasy- zombies. Or zombie-like creatures anyway. Ok, so these guys aren’t unlike Danny Boyle’s rage-infected puker/spitter/bleeders (and most importantly, runners) from 28 Days Later.
But what KIND of zombie isn’t the issue. What kind of story has them in it is.
And Courtney has- consciously or not- taken a page from the originators of the genre, from Richard Matheson and from George Romero. The story is about the (for now) survivors, about the people in crisis. Replace the wheezing horde outside with rabid dogs or acid rain or bug-eyed alien monsters from Planet X and the story remains the same.
Well, that isn’t entirely true- part of the reason the Zombie subgenre (does it still rate a sub? I mean really, is it a full blown genre by now?) resonates is because “they are us”, and we are them. We’re all gonna die sooner or later, and the frailty of mortality is everywhere in a zombie story.
As it should be.
This is a pitch perfect zombie novel that isn’t as far a detour as one might expect from the mean halls of high school that are Courtney’s usual stomping grounds. In Courtney’s world(s), nobody is perfect, everyone has cracks in their facade, flaws in their personality, and bad shit happens to people who don’t always deserve it.
Now Courtney doesn’t pull her punches, like I said, and her protagonist has essentially given up on life but maintains to it more out of habit than interest. C’mon, y’all! This is a gut-punch of a lead character. She isn’t exactly likeable- but how stable would any of us be during the zompocalypse?
I mean, other than me and Courtney. We’ve got our go bags packed and a rendezvous point selected. The undead don’t stand a chance.
Did I mention that this is a funny book? It is- it can be- amidst the bleak and horrible. And there is some bleak and harrowing shit to survive. But this isn’t “mean for the sake of putting the protag through the ringer” writing.
Courtney sidesteps the knee-jerk nihilism of the post-credits “Easter Egg” of Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead – which seemed to me to be a sort of “fuck you” to the audience.
She comes closer to the “choose your own tone” that accompanies the helicopter ride at the end of Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead- is there hope, or is any escape futile, a temporary relief?
This Is Not A Test is a test though- it isn’t a fun read, a lot of people aren’t going to “enjoy” it. I loved it.
Especially the finale image Courtney leaves us with- an achingly beautiful, haunting moment.