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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Scott Kenemore: "Zombie, Indiana"

Author:  Scott Kenemore
Title:  Zombie, Indiana
Plot Type:  Political Thriller with Zombies   
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality1; Humor—2 
Publisher:  Talos Press (2014)     
     In Kenemore's third zombie novel, the setting is the state in which he lived during his adolescent years. Zombie, Indiana is similar to Zombie, Illinois in that it is told primarily from the viewpoints of three main characters who are diverse in societal position, race, and age. In both Zombie, Illinois and Zombie, Ohio, corrupt politicians play major roles in the plots. Like the zombies in Zombie, Illinois, the Indiana zombies eat brains, tearing their victims apart as they try to get to their skulls. Just as in Zombie, Illinois, the bodies that are rising as zombies in Indiana are only those buried in shallow graves or thrown into lakes or rivers, not the graveyard bodies that are encased in coffins and concrete vaults and buried six feet under. Who knew that solid, Mid-Western Indiana would have tens of thousands of shallow-grave burials, the kind preferred by mobsters and serial killers. "How many unsolved murders were there every year? And how many cases where people disappear and the body is never found? All those people who you hope are living in another state or somewhere overseas. What if they're right here, just a few inches underneath the ground? Dumped into shallow ponds and thrown into caves. Buried in an unmarked location with no coffin to prevent a reanimated body from clawing its way back up through the earth."

      In Zombie,  Illinois, Kenemore divided his story into three sets of unnumbered chapters alternating among his three main characters in a strict 1-2-3 pattern, with each character speaking in the first-person voice.  Although there are also three main characters in Zombie, Indiana, Kenemore uses a more traditional construction, weaving his narrative back and forth among the three characters and using a third-person voice. 

     The politicians' scenes in Zombie, Indiana are set in Indianapolis, while the parts that include the other two major characters take place mostly in the countryside, several hours south of the city.

     Although all three of Kenemore's zombie novels are supposedly meant to take place concurrently, that seems impossible because Zombie, Ohio and Zombie,  Illinois are set in the winter while Zombie, Indiana is set in very early autumn—with green leaves and warm winds.

     Click HERE to read my review of Zombie, Ohio. Click HERE to read my review of Zombie, Illinois. I have to say that Zombie, Ohio remains my favorite of the three novels. 

            STORY SUMMARY AND REVIEW             
    The action begins when a group of private school students, including the governor's daughter, are touring some river-laced caves by boat when they are attacked by a horde of hungry, skeletal zombies. To the rescue comes Special Sergeant James Nolan of the Indianapolis Metro Police (IMP), who has been sent to the scene by the governor when the boats are hours overdue in returning to the cave entrance. At this point, the zombie outbreak is just beginning, and Nolan knows nothing about it. He jumps into the last available boat, rowing it into the dark cave tunnel with only the light of his flashlight to help him find his way. What he discovers is a series of overturned boats and huge numbers of floating teen-age body parts. Then he spots a single live person, a schoolgirl named Kesha Washington who has managed to get to the rocky shore and is fending off a zombie. After Nolan rescues Kesha, the two make their way out of the cave on foot, following a bloody trail that tells them that others survived. All Kesha wants is to go home, but Nolan has been assigned to find Madison Burleson, and he always follows orders. As the pair hikes through woodlots and across corn fields, they find butchered bodies and see a number of zombies (but not up close).

     Meanwhile, back at the state capital, Governor Burleson disassembles the emergency satellite phone issued to him by the federal government because he wants absolutely no help from the feds. He will solve this problem himself and then reap the rewards of having been so resourceful. Burleson calls in the Indiana National Guard and as many police officers as he can find and turns the area around the capitol building in his personal Green Zone of safety, allowing none of the citizens of Indiana into his sanctuary. Burleson is a caricature of a Tea-Party conservative, one that would be more at home in a sit-com or a cartoon than in this novel. His self-delusional, self-centered, over-the-top behavior is too outrageous and preposterous to be believed or even to be considered satirical. Here is one of his rants as he explains why he dismantled the satellite phone: "Answering that phone is tantamount to begging for help…I can't allow that to happen. I can't even put myself in a situation where someone can suggest that that could have happened…I want people to know that I didn't ask for help. Indiana didn't ask for help. I want to be able to look at the cameras and say there was no phone call to the Feds begging for troops...I don't want to put myself in a position where I can even be accused of having asked for help from the federal government of the United States of America."

     James Nolan is a Dudley Do-Right stereotype. In fact, I kept picturing him as a square-jawed Mountie. Back in the day, Nolan was a famous basketball player at Ball State, but after he was involved in a drunk-driving accident that badly injured him and killed some of his friends, Burlesonthen mayor of Munciehelped cover up the story and got Nolan a job with the IMP. Now that Burleson is governor, Nolan serves as his personal errand-runner. People all over Indiana know Nolan on sight, so he wears huge sunglasses to hide his identity. He hates to be recognized, but it happens every single place he goes.  

     Kesha is an intelligent, brave scholarship student, and a sophomore who is trying to fit in with her wealthy classmates. (NOTE: Kenemore has apparently modeled the school after Park Tudor, a real private high school in Indianapolis because he has Kesha say, "So what if the school was snooty…and sort of sounded like 'rotted crap' spelled backwards?") Her father is the editor of an African American newspaper in Indianapolis, and her estranged mother is a city council member who has been having an affair with the governor for years. Kesha is wise beyond her years (much too wise), and, along with Nolan, she serves as the calm center of the zombie storm. They separate about a third of the way into the book when Nolan goes off to find Madison, leaving Kesha with the survivors of a traveling carnival.

     The plot branches out into three story lines: Burleson's antics in the Green Zone, Nolan's efforts to find Madison, and Kesha's cross-country adventures with a young man from the carnival. The story goes off the rails when the coincidences begin to pile up, one right after another. For example, when Kesha and her friend run off to escape from some human predators, they run right into Madison and her friends. When Nolan reaches the governor's isolated cabin, who should be there by Kesha's father. When Nolan and Kesha's father stumble across a water-studying biology professor in the middle of the deep woods, he provides valuable information about the zombie uprising, even though he doesn't even know that it is happening. All of these convenient occurrences (and more) are so unnatural and artificial that they definitely weaken the plot.

     Also unbelievable is the speed at which society falls apart. Within hours, clean water is unavailable; cell phones and land phones are inoperable; and all electric power is gone. By the next day, people are flocking to Indianapolis in blind panic, burning down buildings for heat and warmth. It's hard to believe that things get so bad so quickly. The power plant blows up in the first moments of the uprising, supposedly because zombies brushed up against power lines. This seems implausible.

     The ending is dramatic and weird, as we learn Burleson's dark secrets and discover more information about the hold he has over Nolan. The weird part is that we are led to believe that Burleson's actions have caused the zombie uprising, but then we are told that…well, I can't tell you what we're told because it would be a spoiler. Let me just say that I felt betrayed by Kenemore's unreliable narrator. 

     For lovers of zombie gore, you'll have to be satisfied with the cave attack  and the long-distance view of the carnival massacre because those are the worst of the slaughter scenes. For the most part—as in Zombie, Illinois—the zombies are on the fringes of the action, where they are a dangerous presence but are not making many personal appearances.

     For me, this is the weakest of the three books, with stereotypical and unbelievable characters, too many implausibly coincidental situations, and a plot resolution that falls short of a pay-off. In regard to the cause of the zombie outbreak, why lead us down a long road that comes to such a sudden dead end? All of the governor's characteristics—his attitude, his ineptitude, his corruption, his words—come across as false and unbelievable. Unfortunately, the governor is a pivotal character, so if we don't believe in his character, the story just falls apart. When I read the governor's early scenes, I thought that
 Kenemore might be writing a satire, but a satire has to have a level of believability that this novel just doesn't have.

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