Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Allison Hewitt Is Trapped (Zombie #1) by Madeleine Roux

Allison Hewitt was hard at work in a bookstore when the zombie apocalypse broke out.  Now she's trapped in the store room with her boss, a few coworkers and a couple of the store's regular customers. For now, things seem okay because they have a few supplies but Allison knows that they cannot afford to stay in the store room.  As she and her compatriots look for someplace safe to live, Allison cannot stop thinking of her mother who has cancer.  When Allison learns that her mother may have moved on to a place called Liberty Village, Allison must choose between staying with her fellow survivors or heading out on her own to find her mother.

What drove me to read Allison Hewitt Is Trapped, is the fact that the book is written in a series of blog posts.  For me, this amounted to a unique device to tell a story.  Unfortunately, the blog concept didn't really work and left me wondering if Roux had actually read a blog?  If you are writing a blog post about something which happened, it should read like a recollection and not like the events are current. Furthermore, writing about past events should evoke some kind of personal introspection which these supposed posts were absolutely lacking.  The only way in which Roux stayed true to the blog format was by having comments at the end of each entry.  The comments became the only real representation of a blog post; however, they also served to pull me out of the story because they included brief snippets from what I would call less than side characters and their peril.

It has to be said, Allison's ability to keep her laptop safe and continue to find free wifi to post as the world falls apart really made no sense to me whatsoever.  Why would someone prioritize this as a form of record keeping in a zombie apocalypse?

Chick-lit is a guilty pleasure of mine but after reading Allison Hewitt Is Trapped, I'm not sure that it lends itself well to a dystopain zombie setting. The very nature of a zombie apocalypse means darkness and suffering juxtaposed to Allison's upbeat attitude really felt at odds; it made this apocalypse seem so sanitized.  I was particularly irked by Allison's love life.  She doesn't know if her mother is alive or dead, is fighting for food and shelter, yet somehow she manages to fall in love with an older married man.  Given the threat to her life and safety, am I really supposed to find her drama as the other woman believable or even interesting? Every time Allison went on about how much she hated Collin's wife, I couldn't help but shake my head. Who the hell would be worrying about this shit now? Worse still, Allison stopped just short of wishing his wife dead on several occasions and then had the nerve to wonder if she is a bad person.

I think it would have helped had the characters had any depth to them whatsoever. Allison throwing snark and shipping people eg, "Hollianted", does not make up for the fact that none of these characters felt like real people to me.  The religious cult which developed on campus just felt like a silly segue that went nowhere.  Sure, I can get behind people seeing an apocalypse through a religious lens but the way this cult of women functioned simply didn't make any sense to me.  It all felt like a really crappy version of The Handmaid's Tale.

If all of that is not enough, there's the purple prose.
Somehow the radio the didn't quite convey the loveliness of his reading voice.  It distorted it, as if all the death and ugliness hanging between us in space had corroded the quality of his voice until ti was a thin imitation.  Even then, even with Zack next to me, it had been beautiful; but now, seeing him, being in the same room as the text and the man and the voice, it's incandescent.  
There are times when out potential grows weary of trembling in shadow and comes suddenly, violently, to the fore. Like a song forced through our pores, or water crashing over a broken dam. that potential arrives, determined, demanding out attention.  Maybe there are other thing in that locked vault-maybe there's more than just violence and deception and coldness.  Maybe there is a radiance, love, a kind of longing that singes you inside. (pg 121-122)
For all the faults of Allison Hewitt Is Trapped, erasure is not one of them.  Renny is a lesbian who is captured by the religious cult for the purposes of reproduction. Allison manages to help her escape and from that point on, Renny and Allison are pretty much ride or die friends. I like that Renny is very clear about who she is and what her sexuality is. Prior to the apocalypse when dealing with her homophobic mother who thought that Renny's lesbianism was a fad, Renny made it clear that not even at the end of the world would she be interested in a man.  When the end of the world does happen, Renny decides that for the good of mankind she might be willing to procreate but that doesn't change her sexuality.  When Allison jokes that if she were "into pussy" that Renny would be her first choice, I love that Renny responds, "you should be so lucky." This really is a stab at the idea that LGBT people will just sleep with anyone and don't in fact have a type. Later, Allison even acknowledges that she's out of Renny's league.

In terms of race, Renny is black and Ted is a Chinese exchange student.  It irks me that Allison had the nerve to question Ted choosing an English name.  There's absolutely no acknowledgement of the very legitimate reasons why Ted would choose to do so.  Allison then doubles down on her ignorance when she is shocked to learn that there's no Halloween in China. Ted is with Allison from the very beginning but he is very much a trope.  Ted is such a geek that he mumbles formulas in his sleep. Then there's the following racist exchange which was supposed to read like comedy but came across as anything but.
Buddha taught that desire never learns, it never wakes up to its own foolishness, it drives us on endlessly—and for what?”
 “Hmm, well, Confucius say: ‘White girls who sit on tack get point.’ ”
 “Right, never quote Buddha to a Chinaman, I forgot.”
“Forsooth! That stings!” (pg 81)
To say that I am bitterly disappointed by Allison Hewitt Is Trapped is an understatement.  Even the title is disingenuous given that Allison spent a good deal of this book on the move.  The concept of this book is interesting and it really could have gone somewhere good but Allison Hewitt Is Trapped, just failed to live up to its potential.  The characters were two dimensional without any growth and oftentimes the snark just seemed really out of place given the serious issues that the characters were dealing with.  I don't think that there's anything Roux could have done to save this story because it was simply wrong from the start.