Review: Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

(Now that finals are over and I can breathe, eat, and sleep again, it's time to blog!) 

TITLE: Zombie
AUTHOR: Joyce Carol Oates
PAGES: 192
FORMAT: Kindle
ISBN: 978-0452275003
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve read].
FOR: Adults or older teens who like character-driven literary novels heavy in the macabre. Fans of Criminal Minds and American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis).

It depicts the career of Quentin P., a convicted young sex offender on probation who has turned to serial killing without being caught, despite the worried scrutiny of his family and of his psychiatrist. Convincingly presented as Quentin's diary of his pursuit of the perfect "zombie" (a handsome young man to be rendered compliant and devoted through Quentin's lobotomizing him with an ice pick), the narrative incorporates crude drawings and typographic play to evoke the hermetic imagination of a psychopath; the reader examines the killer's sketches of weapons and staring eyes, and hears him say, "I lost it & screamed at him & shook him BUT I DID NOT HURT HIM I SWEAR."

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a bit of an obsession with serial killers. So after a conversation about Jeffrey Dahmer the other day (yes, the glamorous life of a psych grad student), I recalled a former lit professor having mentioned this evilly wonderful novel by Joyce Carol Oates, one of the underappreciated literary greats. The novel’s protagonist happens to be based heavily on Dahmer, who had similar zombie-making inclinations. I read it in about two days flat. And wish it had been longer so I didn’t have to stop reading.

Don’t let the “literary” scare you. It’s not flowery. It’s not that Victorian stuff your teacher made you read in high school. Oates writes in a vocabulary accessible to any reader. Except children. Because it would scar them. Like American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, it takes you into the mind of a killer. Only this killer is no suave Patrick Bateman. He’s sometimes grandiose, sometimes naïve, sometimes childish—to the point that you find yourself cheering him on halfway through only to catch yourself and say, Wait. Bad C.J. Stop supporting the serial killer. But that’s the power of Oates’ empathic portrait. You can hate him, fear him, and feel for him at the same time. Not many books can do that, eh?

Plot-wise, it’s not going to be your average crime novel. It jumps around a bit and keeps you guessing. It’s not a blood-and-guts sort of story. But Oates’ descriptions are so perfect (for example, "My whole body is a numb tongue.") that you feel every sensation, from Quentin’s queer psychopathic glee to the sharp point of that ice pick. The ending was less satisfying, but it left the chills it was no doubt intended to.  If you have a strong stomach, read it. It’s beautifully horrifying.

1 comment:

  1. I'm trying to locate decent zombie books based on Zombie Survival Games i'd appriciate any help :)