It’s probably just me, but I had the hardest time getting into Amelia Beamer’s The Loving Dead. As for why I picked it up in the first place? Aside from that it was definitely ‘zombie?’ AT WHC2011, John Skipp (on an excellent zombie panel) said it was the only zombie fiction he’d read recently that was legitimately bringing something new. So, I went home ready to buy it, but then of course already had it—I’d plucked it from a shelf going solely on the Christopher Moore blurb, which is the over-the-top and cool. And, it’s that Moore blurb which pulled me through the first bit (forty pages?), which . . . it’s not at all that it’s slow, poorly written, anything like that, it’s just that I so despise these people who are under the spotlight. I kept wanting to kick them, tell them to do something with themselves, to quit worrying about all these interpersonal relationships, about where the next beer was, all that (which is to say, yeah, I was hating on myself at that age). But that’s the texture of this novel: it’s not about the quest, it’s about how people feel about each other. And it’s completely satisfying.
Anyway, with novels, even ones I know I’m going to finish, I always mark exactly where it is (if it is . . .) that I’m now officially sold on this novel, where it is that I now believe in this writer, am going to follow him or her wheresoever she shall lead. It was page forty-nine this time:
“And what will you tell them?” Though their relationship was semi-secret, Walter had said he didn’t mind if she talked about him with her friends. He’d told her that she probably would have done it anyway. Which made her want to keep it secret. Maybe he’d done that on purpose.
That’s some nice nuancing, yes? Those last three sentences, the way they follow her chain of reasoning and characterize her as having this kind of healthy, self-reflexive paranoia which then informs her decisions. It’s—it’s like how you’ve read that birds burying seeds, if another bird’s watching them, then they’ll come back later, bury those seeds somewhere else. That kind of vigilance, and ascribing completely made-up motivations to the other ‘birds’ (in this case, Walter), that’s what being human’s about. And Beamer’s rendering it perfectly for us on the page, and doing it with so little (apparent) effort.
So, yeah, after then, I was rolling, cooking, whatever it is where you burn through a novel, carry it with you everywhere. And, yeah, Beamer uses semi-colons in the strangest way, but at least they’re more or less consistent, and, while there’s plenty of sex, it’s all done very well, isn’t trying itself to be a hook. A lot of writers, you read their sex scenes and you know that—it’s like how when you see somebody writing these lush descriptions of unicorns, you slowly cue in that they’re adding all these words in order to try to make that unicorn ‘real,’ like, man, they’d really really like to see a unicorn some day? That’s not at all how Beamer does her sex scenes. It’s all tasteful, is just another thing that happens. She’s got the control to get somewhat graphic with it yet never let it feel like something a thirteen-year-old boy would really like to read alone, with lubrication. People could learn from her, I’m saying. Her sex scenes aren’t saying “I’ve had a lot of good sex and here’s my proof, losers,” but they’re also not doing the “my girlfriend lives in another state but she’s really pretty”-thing either. They just happen, and they’re good, and then you’re onto the next good thing.
However, where this story really lives and breathes, it’s in the little details she makes come alive: how, “in the Bay Area, it was always girls and gay guys who did the sports”; how, when counting cash, the person watching the person doing that notes that they’re ‘facing’ the bills; it’s how one of the characters, even in the privacy of his head, doesn’t know the difference in ‘penance’ and ‘penitence’; how another character stands with his “meeting-new-people smile”; how a character just ‘knows’ that the kid she’s dealing with would probably spell ‘all right’ as ‘alright’ (which in turns endears the character thinking that to us).
Also, Beamer knows her zombie lore, and, while she doesn’t show it off, she does insert the odd line just to kind of nudge us, let us know that she’s not here to exploit, but she’s been here a while, knows that everybody thinks themselves “smarter than the average dude” once the apocalypse starts, but the characters also get smart enough to figure out that “There’s more to zombies than movies.” And, in spite of all this foreknowledge of what’s going down, still, “Boarding up the windows only [leads] to hiding in the basement.” However, Beamer’s got some of her own insight on this whole zombie thing, too: “They should work out their miscommunication skills like adults, without making zombies fight for them,” and, “If they could keep a sense of humor, they might survive.”
If only everybody would listen.
And, yes, I suck at the ‘synopsis’ part of reviews, obviously. Here: the plague seeps into the Bay Area, it acts kind of like an STD, and, the plot, it’s pretty much Dead Set (with maybe a little Sam & Hailey fun-with-structure): guy and girl separated by the dead, working against impossible odds to find each other, and, along the way, having it proved to them over and over that, in a zombie apocalypse, it’s not the walking dead who are the real monsters, it’s your fellow human, ‘released’ from all social constraints. Same old story—and that’s not a bad thing at all—but what Beamer brings to the genre is some heart. Which, all that interpersonal relationship stuff I was having to wade through early on? Yeah, well, it pays off. Just as Shaun of the Dead was written such that the zombies could have been a flood, a storm, whatever, so The Loving Dead is finally just about a girl figuring out who she is, and how she wants to live in this new world. And it’s touching, and you care about her, and John Skipp was right: Beamer is bringing something necessary to the zombie table—storytelling. This isn’t about the gore, isn’t a survival fantasy, it’s about people.
Glad I read it. You should too.