Friday, September 10, 2010

Book: The Reapers Are the Angels, by Alden Bell (2010)

When did the zombie apocalypse achieve cultural singularity? A couple of years ago I’d never heard the phrase. Now I half-expect to open my interfaith calendar and find Z-Day listed.

Another harbinger of the walking dead bringing about the fall of mankind is the birth of a new genre: zomlitfic. Alden Bell is a pseudonym for Joshua Gaylord, who wrote last year’s novel of teachers and students Hummingbirds. In The Reapers Are the Angels, his teenage protagonist is facing something worse than a clique of mean girls.

15-year-old Temple has never known a world not plagued by what are known variously as meatskins or slugs, and as such she’s made her peace with it. She keeps moving and knows how to find what beauty remains. Reapers is a Gothic picaresque, following Temple as she roams the American South. She encounters survivors coping in different ways, some attempting to start society over in the face of this new reality, others content to stay trapped in a distant past. She also acquires a sworn enemy who stalks her across the countryside.

Bell writes in an ornate vernacular. “But the family, it’s an iron fierce thing.” Temple grouses that “... you can’t put nothing past these southern boys. They just sit around waiting for somebody to kill their brother so they can get started on some vengeance. It’s like a dang vocation with them.” Picture Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird grown up and in a Flannery O’Connor novel filled with the undead. Reapers is a potent, unexpected, and ultimately moving book. Considering that I’m genuinely unnerved by zombies, that’s strong praise.