Friday, December 9, 2011

Review: My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

Angel had a difficult life - a mentally ill, abusive, dead mother and an alcoholic abusive father. She dropped out of high school without graduating, drifted between low end jobs, with an on-again, off-again relationship with a similar guy and she got by by taking pills - not prescription. Well, they were prescription, but not prescribed to her. I know, I know dead parents again but beyond the issue of a dead parent, is the issue that her mother had a mental illness.  Far too often in fiction those that are neurologically atypical are constructed as violent when in actuality, they are more often a danger to themselves than anyone else.

And then she died. It was just what she needed to turn her life around.

Now, thanks to her mysterious benefactor, she has a new job, she’s off the booze and the pills and she’s finally making a new life for herself. Except for, well, craving brains. Gooey, human brains in fact.Good thing she works in a mortuary.

Things seem to be getting on track except for a wave of bodies showing up. Bodies without brains, headless bodies (both very useless for her to snack on) that are forming an increasingly disturbing trend that the authorities can’t spot. Only just embarking on her new life, Angel is now in the middle of a murder mystery.

Zombies. Zombies as protagonists? That’s pretty damn unique. And it’s pretty well done as well (I had the misfortune to be eating a ham sandwich when the brain eating began. It will be a while before I can look at moist, glazed ham the same again). It’s a very interesting take on the genre and the idea of zombies - I like it and it’s always fun to find.

And I like Angel. She’s funny, she’s amusing, she’s pretty sensible (lacking the spectre of spunky agency) she’s light hearted and real. She’s also a pretty nuanced and deep character.

While traumatised childhoods are pretty much par the course in the genre and, yes, I am sick of them -  this was well done. Angel’s past clearly and deeply affects her, but it isn’t her all consuming obsession, nor is it cast aside casually either. She mourns her lack of education, she is wounded by her mother’s abuse and her father’s mood swings and violence clearly cast a shadow over her life that she can’t turn off - but nor does it become all she is for giant, dramatic angst-fests either. we also have some pretty good class analysis with the poverty they live in, her both ruefully embracing her “poor trash” label while at the same time resenting it and struggling against it. Her anger at being judged, but also her shame as well as her discovering her self-esteem and self-worth as the books progress - and all of it well done because Angel is generally a light hearted character. She doesn’t have to sit down and mope and have a long internal monologue to explain all this to us - but there’s enough subtle references to carry the weight of it.

I also like the commentary on addiction. While Angel’s addictions were completely cured by her becoming a zombie, she recognises that if she hadn’t become one, she would have found it nigh impossible to stop - and she doesn’t expect her father to be able to easily cast aside his alcoholism either. Addiction is shown as life destroying but also how many people function (or don’t) with addiction.

The plot itself is a pretty standard murder mystery. We have Angel find her feet as a zombie, discovering what she is and what that means and it runs parallel with the mystery. I’m not sure which could be considered the dominant plot line because they both have roughly equal attention, perhaps her change the greater; which makes sense given the enormity of her transformation. The mystery is interesting enough, not the most amazing I’ve read or the most exciting, but it did have twists there were decent red herrings here and there - it was complicated enough not to be instantly predictable and it did shift around. It was a nice story, but I think the book was carried more by theme, uniqueness and Angel’s character than it was by plot. The plot was decent - but her growth as a character, from her beginnings to how she came into herself was truly brilliantly done and worth reading for itself alone.

Inclusion-wise it’s not great - we have a few random POC in the background but not in any kind of prominent role and that’s about where it ended when it came to inclusion - a whole lot of erasure. But at least it wasn’t compounded by lots of -isms lurking around.

I’d definitely recommend this book. It’s unique, it’s funny and it has moments of surprising depth. Just don’t eat ham sandwiches at the same time