To me, one of the most fascinating trends in todayís literature is how weíre altering and molding ancient mythologies to fit with modern-day storytelling norms. Vampires went from single-minded monsters to sparkly love interests, for example. Zombies - well, zombies are a little more difficult because they are inherently, um, brain-dead. Not much you can do with that, right?
Doesnít mean someone wonít give it a shot, though. And recently, I read a book that attempted to do this and maybe cash in on the recent supernatural teen/paranormal romance craze. For me, the results were mixed. Zombies Donít Cry, by Rusty Fischer, is the tale of a girl named Maddy Swift, who sneaks out one night and dies in a freak lightning strike. When she wakes up, sheís a zombie.
This book features some of the most common tropes in this type of fiction, including the good zombie/bad zombie dynamic, a secret society of zombies, a teenage love triangle, and a school dance (the Fall Formal). Itís a predictable story with an erratic plot, superficial characterizations and few real surprises - but it's not terribly serious or cloyingly angsty, and that makes it a more enjoyable ride than some "paranormal romance"-style novels I could mention.
I really do think that hormonal, adolescent zombies are a harder concept to pull off than similarly-profiled vampires; sex has always been an integral part of the vampire myth, after all, and zombies are just...dead. That makes up quite a challenge for an author, and brings up questions that arenít really answered here...like, if a zombie is injured, theyíre incapable of regenerating new tissue, right? So if she gets hit in a fight, isnít there just a big gaping hole/bruise/spot that anyone can see? And if youíre brain dead, how do you think about romance and feel happy or sad or righteously indignant?
Ultimately, I think what happens here is that the author gives lip service to the concept of a zombie and lets the rest slide. Maddy must eat brains, but she can go to the butcher and get the remains of animals - much like modern-day ďgoodĒ vampires get their blood from animals via blood bars or hospitals. Her body temperature is way lower than usual. But she has feelings, and she can live her life with a modicum of normality (assuming she wears a lot of makeup).
In this world, there are good zombies and there are Zerkers. In general, zombies who have been turned by natural phenomenon such as lightning are thinking, feeling beings. Zombies who have been turned by other zombies are Zerkers. One of the Elders of zombie society explains it thusly: ďZombies can talk, reason, drive, think. communicate, read that book your holding, and...care. Zerkers care about only one thing: brains.Ē
Actually, itís not a bad way of getting some actual personality out of zombies, which is not an easy thing to do. But I doubt this novel, taken as a whole, is going to enjoy the popularity that certain other genre fiction offerings have, and Iíll tell you why. Mainly itís because of the characterizations. These characters arenít intense enough; theyíre broadly drawn with not enough depth. I happen to believe that some of the success of books like Stephanie Meyerís Twilight has to do with a lot of angst and relatability and tortured romance, and the characters in Zombies Donít Cry just donít have enough of those aspects. Still, I found the Twilight series pretty much unreadable for exactly those reasons.
I have no major complaints about the main character, although I didnít think Maddy acted realistically in certain situations. How would you react if you woke up dead? But, when certain secondary characters did things, or had things happen to them, I didnít find it at all interesting for two reasons: I didnít feel like I knew them well enough to care what they did, and there wasnít enough setup. You always expect the person who ends up dying in a movie to have a better backstory and a more interesting relationship with the protagonist. There was only one guy in the book who met that qualification. And new characters kept popping up unexpectedly as if I should know who they are. It felt like there ought to be more context for Maddyís interactions, as with her teacher and her best friend, to make sense of what happens later. As a result the flow of the plot felt jerky and a bit unnatural - even for a novel based on zombies.
The enemies arenít that interesting, in my opinion - ooh, evil brooding not-teenagers - but then again, I felt that way about Twilight, too. Still, Meyerís vampires felt a touch more sinister than these dead-eyed, bullying berzerkers. And the society of zombie Elders end up figuring much into anything. Iím still not sure of what the point of them is, other than to hand Maddy a manual on how to be a zombie. Well, and to make life difficult for newly-created zombies - since apparently they let roving bands of teen zombies take care of the bad guys. They also punish new members of the living dead for not knowing that a secret society of zombies exist - except I'm not sure how new zombies are supposed to find out, except by luck. Also, I didnít really have an opinion on which guy Maddy should end up with, because neither seemed all that interesting. Whereas in Twilight I was Team Jacob until he hooked up with Bella's daughter.
Not that this is a terrible book. Itís actually a fast, absorbing read, and Maddy is at least a better heroine than Bella Swan. The author doesnít take things too seriously, so the bookís style is more quirky than gut-wrenchingly sincere, and that definitely helps. Itís kind of fun, the tone is a tad silly, and if you donít take it too seriously, youíll like it just fine.
Ultimately, I wanted to read this book because I could see that writers and storytellers are trying to change the story of zombies into something that had more narrative oomph, and Iím not sure how it can be done. This books proves that it can - sort of, although a lot of character development is missing here and I think this would have to figure prominently into any really great transformation of zombie culture. And if the story isnít perfect, well, itís still an interesting look into our societyís current zeitgeist and the evolution of monsters into true characters.
Zombies Donít Cry, a Living Dead Love Story by Rusty Fischer, was published by Medallion Press, Inc. in 2011. Thereís a sequel out now, called Zombies Donít Forgive. Both are available through www.amazon.com.