Handling the Undead
Last summer — months after everybody else then as well — I finally hit LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and was so completely impressed. To say it better: I was so impressed that the movie adaptation seemed pale to me, incomplete, boring. Which isn’t at all to say it wasn’t a wonderful film (I dig the American remake as well), but to say that no way was it matching up to the wonderful experience the book had been.
So, now, the last few days, I devoured HANDLING THE UNDEAD. Kind of the perfect time, too, as I both have a zombie novel coming out and am in the middle of teaching a zombie course. The weekend it was the complete run of THE WALKING DEAD. Before that, DEAD SET. And on and back into more and more fun.
But, with HANDLING THE UNDEAD, I’ll admit, I was nervous. I didn’t see how the mode of storytelling Ajvide Lindqvist is into, or was for LET THE RIGHT ONE IN anyway, was going to synch up with the frenetic survivalist fantasy of a zombie plague. Which is to say I was worried he’d either trade his style in, lose that slow, close voice he can do so well, or completely upend everything we thought we knew about zombies.
Of course he did the latter. After LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, I should have been able to bullseye this before even reading the thing. But I don’t want to give everything away here, either. Indirectly, though, I can say that HANDLING THE UNDEAD, it’s definitely got elements of King’s THE CELL, say, or John Darnton’s NEANDERTHAL. Really, it’s kind of halfway between them, but — and this is important — unlike so many other zombie novels (actually, this is a ‘reliving’ novel, according to Lindqvist’s preferred terminology), this one presupposed a critical level of pop-knowledge about zombies. So there’s not that learning period you get in NotLD, say — it’s dramatized exposition — where the crew figures out that headshots are the living dead’s silver bullets. Here, instead, everybody’s laying their zombie expectations onto these zombies, and finding that the movies had it all wrong.
What’s more, even, whereas most zombie novels are pretty bleak, maybe giving you one pretty flower to focus on in this whole postapocalypse, HANDLING THE UNDEAD . . . it’s not quite THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN-stuff (which I don’t at all mind), but there’s definitely elements of that. Yet it never shambles so far as to be sentimental.
And, ‘postapocalypse’ — that’s me laying my own genre expectations onto this zombie novel, yes. HANDLING THE UNDEAD is in the now, not the bad-bad later. Kind of like the first chapter of WORLD WAR Z, blown out to a gut-wrenching three-hundred and sixty page emotional rollercoaster. And at the end you kind of want more, don’t want it to be stopped so soon already. And yet, of course — it’s Lindqvist — it stops at exactly the right place. Very impressed. Fingers crossed that werewolves are next for Lindqvist . . .