Sunday, September 2, 2012
The worldwide zombie plague rages on with the shambling masses of walking dead. New York is home to eight million zombies and a handful of living people unable to leave their apartment building. The living wait for the zombies to deteriorate or stop, but they keep going, covering the city once teeming with life. Months go by and their food, water, and patience for each other are dwindling. One day, they spot a girl walking through the zombies. The zombies actually move away from her while she walks and they get her attention. Their world gets marginally bigger now that they can access necessities and luxuries with this girl's help. After a while, they get curious about why she is immune, but is the information worth possibly alienating her and severing their only tie to the outside world?
Pariah isn't a typical zombie apocalypse novel. Most books have the humans trying to fight the zombies or trying build a normal life despite the zombies. These people do not. Only a few acts of heroism were done on the first day and then the people resigned themselves to life in a cage. They didn't try to escape or gather supplies from the outside world after seeing a few people's failed attempts and they don't do much of anything except bicker, eat, pass the time, and wait to die. The portrayal of human behavior in this extreme situation feels real. People can get used to the most horrible conditions, even if it is constant hunger and hopelessness surrounded by the undead. These people have chosen to try to outlast the zombies instead of trying to work through or around them to get the things they need. This fact becomes extremely clear when no one does anything to help a dying infant and they are just as resigned when they run out of food. No one is willing to risk their lives among the zombies to help anyone.
The outside world is so close, but they can never reach it, creating a torturous existence. The first half of the novel describes how they live day to day, introduces each character, and fills in some their pasts. These characters come from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from Abe the elderly Jewish man to Eddie the macho misogynist. Some of them find or reaffirm their religion and others see their atheism proved. All of these people are selfish, annoying, and insufferable, but this is probably a better representation of what real people would actually do in a zombie situation. I didn't really like any of these people, but I found the writing and the story compelling.
My favorite character by far is Mona, the messiah/pariah that arrives about half way through the book. She is the most intriguing character because of her special ability to walk among the zombies unmolested and because she is the most selfless character in the entire novel. (Plus she doesn't talk much.) No matter how big or small the request, Mona always ventures out into the urban wasteland to get whatever her newfound friends want or need without judgment or question. She never really fits in with the zombies or the humans, leaving her in a category of her own. The zombies are inexplicably repelled by her, but the people don't feel quite comfortable with her either. Although she saved each on of their lives, they want to know why she is immune and they are not. Mona saved this book for me because I was just about to give up on it when she appeared.
Pariah is a weird but realistic zombie novel. The varied cast of characters portrays humanity in a frank and unflattering manner that rings true. Many think this book is too bleak or not action packed enough, but I think it's a good addition to the zombie genre. I would recommend it to zombie fans interested in character studies and character driven plots with ambiguous outcomes.
My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins