It’s been awhile, Blog. I’ve met someone. A job. You don’t know her. And it’s probably best that you don’t meet. I couldn’t say things like “Damn that shit” to you if you did.
But posts like this have been stewing for months. For Christ’s sake, I finished reading The Brothers Karamazov in the time since I last wrote here. Now that post will be fun for me to write; it will probably end up as coherent as Wookiepedia. Same with my post on E. Klimov’s haunting Come and See, a crawling, existential account of Nazi atrocities in Belorussia. You may have thought the Bielski brothers in Edward Zwick’s Defiance embodied the fury of the Russian satellite state in a Nazi chokehold well enough, but that film at least ended on a Schindler-like note of indefatigable optimism. Come and See is steaming with such volatile and bitter hatred that when the captured German soldiers are doused with gasoline towards the end, we’re gnashing our teeth at the prospect of their prolonged agony. Defiance reminded you that a few hundred people survived. Come and See reminds you that thousands didn’t.
In hindsight I’m relieved, now that I’m seeking out more challenging reads. I’m not a sucker for YA by any means, and you can freely accuse me of tracking down only the most venerated titles. Teen fiction reads like the ad-libs of an ex-girlfriend who sees the world like the dirt under a stone. That’s no secret. I’ll only give it a whirl when cross-gender buzz says I should. It was this mindset that led me to Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth. This swiss cheese plot follows an insane girl from the confined safety of her repressively religious village into the zombie-infested forest of the book’s title. It sure seems like an interested spin on the zombie apocalypse, substituting a religious world for a typical scientific one. But Ryan’s stance is so transparently anti-religious, or anti-establishment, or I dunno, just anti-adult, that even when those in authority do or say things that make sense, she still sticks to her crazy-bullet-shooting guns. Her message is much too garbled by Mary’s irrational narration, which draws too much attention to itself and paints her as a self-destructive sociopath. At one point she claims not to believe in God, then that theme goes away. She claims this, yet she asserts that her mother’s baseless claims about an ocean beyond the forest promises a zombie-free life. Oh, but she’s vindicated because she finds pictures of the outside world! This just turns her one redeeming virtue, hope, into neediness.
Mary is a basketcase in the proud tradition of Hamlet‘s Ophelia. Imagine Shakespeare’s seminal tragedy narrated entirely by Claudius’s daughter post-meltdown. Splitting her time between contemplating suicide, running mindlessly around like a savage, horrifyingly obsessing over dead strangers, resenting her brother for having a successful relationship, blaming the forest for having zombies, blaming her village for having nuns, and blaming guys for not understanding her, Mary presents more of a threat to her fellow human survivors than anything else possibly could.
Now if I were inclined to write zombie fiction, I would abide by the slogan: Don’t kill time, kill zombies. Holed up in an abandoned home with an ever-increasing horde of the undead scratching at the door and their fellow survivors living like Robin Hood in the trees, Mary and Boy #1 proceed to… hang out. In a segment that purports to go on for weeks, the two play house. Or not really. They don’t talk. About anything. Reinforcing the defenses, an escape strategy, food stores, nothing. At one point Mary does become hysterical over the identity of the home’s former occupant and Boy #1 has to say, “Bitch, muffle that report.” That’s about it.
The house is stocked with essential zombie killing munitions: bows and arrows, spears, and assorted bludgeoning/stabbing objects. Ever used? No way. Why? Because the undead just won’t stop coming! whines Mary. Even though they’re in a fenced-in area. The pair never once consider that they have the perfect vantage point to do some risk-free, energy-efficient, hand-to-hand zombie killin’. It’s completely out of the question to lean out of the second story windows and pierce some skulls like they’re aerating the lawn. And it’s not like that would take away from the peril. What if the pile of real-dead zombies could be climbed by still-animate zombies to the second story? Still scary! But they never try! Instead, Boy #1, who can officially be referred to as Bonehead now, waits until the thick wooden door has been scratched into plywood before calmly suggesting that they shore up the defenses. This plays out as the funniest disaster-response scene since the Simpsons episode “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson,” in which Chief Wiggum watches mobsters plant a bomb under Helen Lovejoy’s Fleet-a-Pita van, then politely suggests that she jump through the air and scream like he is about to.
Now I can’t lie. Mary does put the bows and arrows to use, wrapping unhelpful messages around the arrow shafts and firing them at her friends in the tree platforms… without warning. Yes, she fires an arrow that lands right at the feet of her once future betrothed, who gingerly pulls the arrow out of the wood and reads something along the lines of “So whatcha doooin?” And that was on her twentieth attempt. According to Ryan, all her lost arrows ended up in zombies’ heads, something that also makes Mary go a little looloo. The survivors – or more accurately “the improbably alive” – continue to communicate this way. In a later scene Mary says her head would’ve been skewered by an arrow if she didn’t miraculously move in time. So wait, if they’re all unskilled archers, that must mean they don’t get much distance out of their shots. So aren’t they close enough to just yell? Or do they not want the zombies to know their plans?
Readers of any age, sex, creed, color, nationality, political party, or junior varsity sport will pick this book apart. I couldn’t stop shaking my head at it.
I’m polite enough to give teenage characters a little leeway; they’re finding their way in the world, and even their mangled renditions of Led Zeppelin songs at the high school talent shows deserves warm applause for the misguided effort it took to get up there in front of others, but Carrie Ryan’s little terrors are so devoid of reason, defiant of all logic, that I just can’t relate. Ryan, you’re an adult, that’s why I’m not even clapping politely.
Summer update. So, damn, I wrote this back in January, and truth be told, I do have a job (same one! Way to go, buddy!). Besides that Dostoevsky and Klimov I mentioned, I’ve read and seen a bunch more which I’ll babble about soon. When it comes to motivation, this blog really does the trick. And by “read and seen a bunch more” I mean that I read Moby-Dick unabridged and I hate whales and dolphins and stuff now. I’ll have that up soon.