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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Scott Kenemore: Zombie, Ohio

Author: Scott Kenemore
Title: Zombie, Ohio 
Plot Type: Humorous Horror
Ratings: Violence5; Sensuality0; Humor3
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (2011) 

    When Peter Mellor wakes up next to his wrecked car on a wintry country road in rural Central Ohio, he can't remember who he is. In fact, he can't remember much of anything. After making his way to the near-by town of Gant, the landscape seems somewhat familiar, and memories begin to surface. Peter soon discovers that he is a philosophy professor at Kenton College. He also learns that he is quite a slime-ball: a drunk and a womanizer, with only one friend on campus—Sam, a physics professor. Peter also learns that the world is in the midst of a zombie apocalypse in which the dead are rising to become walking cadavers. Before the crash, Peter had been on his way to his girlfriend's house in a neighboring college town where she is a professor. Valerie has two daughters and has, according to Sam, become the center of Peter's sad life.

     Early on in the story, as Peter is still trying to figure out why he feels kind of strange and why more of his memories aren't coming back, he goes into a restroom to wash his face, taking off his hat first. When he looks in the mirror, he is shocked to see that the top half of his head is missing—sheared off in the car wreck. Now Peter must come to terms with the fact that he is, in fact, a zombie. But, unlike the rest of the zombies, Peter is sentient, with the ability to talk, reason, and use tools and weapons. He can even drive a motorcycle. Peter's only zombie characteristics are a pale complexion and a bit of a shamble in his gait.

     What's Peter to do? He's afraid to admit to Sam and Vanessa that he is a zombie, so when the opportunity arises, he takes off on a stolen ATV and rides the roads of Knox County trying to figure out what comes next. Kenemore uses the real names (or close to the real names) of most the towns Peter passes through; only Gant and Dennisburg are fictitious (probably pseudonyms for Gambier, home of Kenyon College, and Granville, home of Denison College). When Peter finally decides to 'fess up to Vanessa about his undead condition, he finds her house empty, with the windows shot out and the interior wrecked. Thinking that Vanessa is dead, Peter decides that he has nothing more to "live" for, so he embraces his inner zombie and goes for the whole  braaaaaains! experience.  The story follows Peter as he roams the roads and fields of Knox County, assembling his own zombie horde, skirmishing with the local vigilante groups, and enjoying a variety of ghastly snacks—the goriest part of the story. Peter begins to enjoy his zombie powers as he and his group surround, terrorize, and eat any number of humans—not differentiating between good guys and bad guys.  Even while Peter is scarfing down brains as if they were cartons of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, you can't help but like him. You appreciate his resilience, chuckle at his humorous narrative, and feel bad about his unfortunate lifestyle change, even as you are totally appalled by the coldheartedness of his dispassionate, bloody massacres.

     Eventually, Peter's adventures take him back to Kenton College, where he tries to find a balance between his old life and his new undead existence. Oh yes, one more thing....In the middle of his zombie travels, Peter learns that his auto crash was not an accident. Someone cut his brake line, and he is determined to find out who murdered him. The answer to that one comes very near the end of the story, so please, don't peek at the ending or you'll ruin the suspense. 

     Kenemore has created a fresh and inventive undead fantasy, but this is not just a zombie plague novel. It's also a murder mystery, a love story, a coming of age (or stage) tale, and a second-chance memoir. You can't ask for much more than that in a single book! Peter is a complex character who tries to make the best of a really bad situation. He tells his story in his own words, baring his soul and allowing us to see the best and the worst of him. Although the solution to the "accident" mystery is somewhat contrived, the book on the whole is terrific. The humor is, as you would expect, very dark. Peter's memory gaps are huge, but the things that he does recall are frequently related to pop culture. For example, when he sees his address on his driver's licence (313 Wiggum Street), he can't remember the house, but he immediately pictures  Chief Wiggum from The Simpsons. Other cultural references include H. P. LovecraftWillie Nelson, Nintendo's Super Mario BrosJourney, and local folklore about a wild turkey.

     I highly recommend this book for zombie lovers, and horror fans, as well as for those who are searching for noir humor in modern paranormal fiction—it's very hard to find.

Here are a few quotations to give you a taste of the dark humor:

Here, Peter sees signs of life in the village of Galen (pseudonym for Galena, OH): 
     "The lights were out, but healthy plumes of blue smoke roared forth from two red chimneys....An embroidered sign hanging on the side door of the house read JESUS IS WATCHING OVER THIS PLACE. Someone had propped a shotgun next to the sign as well—just to show that JESUS had some backup. " (p. 66)

As Peter begins to build his zombie army, he takes stock of his undead resources:
     "...fifteen zombies meant fifteen noses (okay, really more like thirteen) and thirty eyes (actually, 27.5—and you really don't want to know about the .5)." (p. 121)

In this scene, Peter and his merry band find a helicopter that has just crashed into a water tower and is now hanging in the air, caught within the legs of the tower:
     "It's like a piñata," I said to the Turk [one of the zombies]. "We just smack it around until some people fall out." I mimed hitting a piñata with a stick, using my M16. The Turk seemed to know what I meant. (p. 147)

Peter learns from the helicopter pilot that he is known to the human population as the Kernel (after the imprint on the baseball cap Peter wears constantly):
     "Apparently, I was famous. Not good famous, like George Washington  famous or Bruce Springsteen famous (or even Britney Spears famous). I was bad famous. Maybe a better word is 'infamous.' Like Keyser Soze, or Bigfoot or Benedict Arnold." (p. 150)

Now here's a gory bit in which Peter takes a cue from the Hansel and Gretel story. Eminently practical, Peter carries away the helicopter gunner's dead body as he leads his followers away:
     "Now and then, the zombies would fail to keep pace or seem to tarry over the prospect of returning to shake the stranded helicopter some more. In these instances, I chopped off pieces of the man over my shoulder...and dropped them behind me like breadcrumbs." (p. 153)

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