It begins with one body.
A pair of medical examiners find themselves battling a dead man who won’t stay dead.
It spreads quickly.
In a Midwestern trailer park, an African American teenage girl and a Muslim immigrant battle newly-risen friends and family. On a US aircraft carrier, living sailors hide from dead ones while a fanatic makes a new religion out of death. At a cable news station, a surviving anchor keeps broadcasting while his undead colleagues try to devour him. In DC, an autistic federal employee charts the outbreak, preserving data for a future that may never come.
Everywhere, people are targeted by both the living and the dead.
We think we know how this story ends.
We. Are. Wrong.
To put it plainly: The Living Dead blew me away. Authors George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus wrote it in a very smart way, mixing scenes of joy with scenes of pain; gore and beauty; love and hate. Hope and despair. The authors do not pull any punches or encourage the reader to look away; in fact, the reader is asked to lean into these aspects, to embrace the hurt no matter how raw. To accept the good, even when you know it is going to inevitably turn bad. I found this book to be a grab bag of sensations, and I loved every word of it.
What I like most about this book are the STORIES. They are so well done, in reading it I felt as though the authors just had all these personal stories they wanted to tell and putting them in a book where a zombie apocalypse is the backdrop was just the medium they chose to do that. The book follows 5 or 6 people or groups of people from inception, all the way to the end. Reading the genesis of the zombie takeover for each one, going through that first day with them, starts the reader off in a great spot because it creates buy-in for each character. The book puts the reader in a situation to care for the characters right off the bat. As they grow up, get older (in some cases get OLD), the reader experiences the characters’ trials and tribulations along with them, and so when the time comes for the story to end the investment is huge. I know that after 600+ pages of pure tension and emotional manipulation I was aching for a payoff. Hat tip to Kraus and Romero for writing a story that completely twisted me in knots, only to fix me just to screw me back up, again. I was a wreck by the end (and the beginning, if I am being honest), and that is attributable to the writing.
It is important that I mention I am not a horror expert. I have read some horror, but not enough to make any comparisons to classic zombie novels. Admittedly, this is also my first exposure to George A. Romero’s work. I am happy Daniel Kraus included a history of how the book came to be and the author’s involvement involvement with Romero’s unfinished project came (along with some information about Romero’s previous works). I mention this to say that my zombie experience is mostly limited to The Walking Dead (the television show, not the graphic novels [yet]), and so this is where my comparisons lie. TWD is one of my favorite shows, even as critical acclaim may have fallen off. I love the storytelling in the show, and as I mentioned previously, the storytelling in The Living Dead is top-notch. But that is where the comparison ends. The overall story of The Living Dead is much different from that of The Walking Dead, and for that I am thankful. As much as I enjoy TWD I am happy to have a different perspective on the zombie apocalypse. I was afraid this book would be a knock off of that story, but it is nothing of the sort. It is a completely different take.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the writing elements present in the book. The cast of characters is super diverse, which brought many different perspectives to this story that I enjoyed in particular. Obviously each character was written in a unique style, but that writing style would transfer over to overall writing in that chapter, as well, creating another level of diversity that continued to drive the story all the way through. There were times when the writing was smooth and poetic, others when it felt like a heavy-metal song, and everything in between. This constant change in writing style contributed to the overall tension and rawness of the book in a big way.
In sum, The Living Dead is absolutely fabulous. I loved following the characters’ stories, falling in love with them; sometimes being rewarded for allowing those feelings, other times being torn in two. I wondered if a zombie apocalypse is what we need right now, and Romero and Kraus have have shown that, at least for me, THIS is exactly the story I need at this moment. Highly recommended for fans of horror and zombie books in particular, and also anyone who is looking for a story to give them FEELS.