Kicking Ass and Taking Brains. Oi…Puns…
Following my sequential embarrassment due to my ‘attempt’ to try and make a video review (You can relive the horror here), I have decided to do a written review this time around. Seeing as Halloween is coming up in a few days, I thought that it would be nice to review one of my favorite books that features Zombies; Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Z. Becker.
About the Author
Robin Z. Becker, an author/teacher at the University of Central Arkansas, who had released short stories in the past that has gotten her the attention of Exquisite Corpse Annual, Cottonwood, Blue Mesa Review, Griffin and others. Brains: A Zombie Memoir is regrettably her only full length novel that she has had published, which is a shame considering that I enjoy her stories.
Let’s get underway with the review, shall we?
The story would follow Jack Barnes, a college professor from Missouri, who with his wife Lucy find themselves witnessing the zombie apocalypse being born as the undead roam the streets. As with every zombie comedy would show, they open the curtains to find that the undead are lined up for their delicious flesh. *Did I mention that most reports of human cannibalism say that flesh actually tastes like a fine veal or ham? Might be a good substitute to red meat seeing as that causes cancer now. Way to go World Health Organization, you are promoting cannibalism. You pricks…* Anyway, I am getting off track. Jack finds himself being bitten by the undead and the two take shelter in the basement.
Jack eventually transforms into his zombie persona, but realizes that Lucy has been consumed, by his own hand or others has yet to be determined. He quickly realizes that unlike all of the other zombies, he retains his intellect and his ability to write. So after eating an older woman, a poodle named fluffy, and the head of the English department at the college he teaches at much to his enjoyment. Jack eventually decides to use his intellect for a higher purpose by going on a mission to find the creator of the zombie virus, Dr. Howard Stern (who is later found to be a stereotypical German scientist). Now, I know what you are thinking, “This is essentially Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein with zombies, an undead creature that goes out on a quest to find his master.” Well, to an extent that is true, but it is much more than that. During his journey, Jack discovers that there are other zombies that have a specific trait that sets them apart from the rest of the undead shufflers such as Joan who can patch other zombies up, Ros (Rosencrantz) who is capable of speech and even ironic singing, and a zombie named ‘Eve’ who is pregnant with a Zombie Baby!
While the premise of a sentient zombie going on a journey to find his maker and coming to terms with his zombism is not a new story, I enjoy how Robin Becker had written this. You actually feel that you are in this despondent world that the dead currently roam and you become invested in the characters. Speaking of…
A common problem that is found with some novels is that while one group of character is well developed, others are left in the dark. This is particularly true in zombie horror novels where it can be easy to create characters that fall into common archetypes and tropes such as ‘The survivor’ or ‘The mad scientist’. But in this novel where the main characters are all undead, despite not being able to speak except for Ros, their actions give them a personality. Even after the time that had passed while reading this book, I remember all of the characters and their mannerisms. Let’s take a look at the characters of the book.
- Jack Barnes – The leader of the group of zombies who retains his intellect and the ability to write. He also serves as the novel’s protagonist and narrator, telling his story with witty banter and anecdotes. He helps bring this book to life and gives it a lot of the humor that it should be known for.
- Guts – a small African American zombie who is capable of running instead of shuffling like the rest of the undead. He provides some lighthearted moments to the story, especially with his interactions with Isaac.
- Joan – A maternal nurse turned zombie, she is capable of repairing and patching up other zombies to make them like new. She also serves as Jack’s second in command when he first meets her.
- Eve – A female zombie that Jack comes across that is pregnant with Isaac, though still acts like an uncontrollable zombie which puts Jack in an uncomfortable situation about what to do about her.
- Isaac – The zombie baby, who Jack considers to be a symbol of the zombies’ rise. Although a minor character, you can’t help but to fall for his little zombie antics.
- Ros (Rosencrantz) – A soldier who was bitten by Jack, he retained his ability to speak (even sing!) and uses it to help the zombies communicate with the humans they come across.
- Anna – A young woman who becomes zombified by Jack’s desires who is incredibly proficient with firearms. The deadliest creatures have become deadlier, need I say more?
- Dr. Howard Stein – The creator of the zombie virus and the person Jack travels to find in order to get the answers he needs. He doesn’t really have a presence in the story until the final two chapters of the book, but he makes due with what time he does. He is a scientist that had good intentions, but becomes undercut by military action.
The Writing Style
Written in the first person perspective, Jack would narrate the story and recall his events from his cabin in Canada. Question of why everyone goes to Canada during the zombie apocalypse aside, I actually enjoy the way that the story is told. As mentioned before, there is a lot of humor that is laden in the story, though some people can be discouraged because it is considered a dry and witty humor, but I enjoy it. My only gripe with this book would be that with how the book ends. With how Robin Becker had written the story, she is obviously sequel baiting us, but seeing as she had not written a sequel since the book’s release in 2010, it is very disappointing.
Robin Z. Becker’s Brains: A Zombie Memoir in my opinion, is an under-appreciated treasure that is lost among the surplus of zombie novels that flood the market, both online and offline. I implore you to buy this book, bring it back to the limelight and with some luck, she will write a sequel to it. I mean, the book has a great amount of potential to become an amazing series.
Happy Halloween everyone!
Check out Robin Z Becker’s website and blog here.