Sunday, April 19, 2009


From my local college bookstore, I read the ARC of Breathers, a brand-new novel by S.G. Browne, which capitalizes on several current trends.

The first is the zombie haiku craze, started by Ryan Mecum's Zombie Haiku, in which the haiku tells a story, and which now has spawned several websites (here's one) where you can submit your own haiku. Browne's protagonist, poor Andy Warner, who wakes up from the auto accident that killed his wife with a broken ankle and the kind of shoulder and facial injuries that make him look like a stereotypically scary zombie, also composes haiku. Here's a sample:
shattered life dangles
a severed voice screams in grief
i'm rotting inside

The second trend is the comparison of how an impossibly monstrous creature feels to how a human being could feel, done best by Daniel Waters in Generation Dead and repeated for comic effect in Breathers. Almost every chapter has some variation on "if you've never," from an early one: "if you've never seen someone get his arm torn out of his socket by a gang of drunk, college fraternity boys who then slapped him in the face with his own hand, then you probably wouldn't understand" to the penultimate: "if you've never raided a fraternity to exact mortal revenge for the immolation of the woman you love, your unborn child, and your best friend, then you probably wouldn't understand."

Browne's plot also imitates the plot of Generation Dead in its main character's awakening to the injustice in the complete lack of rights for the undead, but with more of a comic-book feel:
"It's not like I reanimated with a five-year plan. And no one exactly prepped me on How to Be a Zombie. It's a big adjustment, harder than you might imagine. After all, I still have the same basic hopes and desires I had when I was alive, but now they're unattainable. I may as well wish for wings."
"Yeah!" I thought, trying to entertain myself with this book while sitting in the sun outside where my son's chess tournament was being held, overlooking the Ohio river on one side and the Bengals football stadium on the other, "that would be fun!" But he doesn't get wings.

What he does get is his first taste of human flesh, "breathers," as living humans are called. But it's okay, at first he thinks it's venison. By the time he realizes it's human and that it has mysterious healing powers, making him look less like a stereotypical scary zombie, he's killing and eating his parents (he begins with his mother's ribs, mmm-mmm).

The back story on why some people reanimate and others don't also strikes me as superfluous and silly:
"Zombies have been around for decades, blending in with the local homeless population of just about every town in the country since the Great Depression...You don't find many zombies in the southern states, since heat tends to speed up decomposition. That and when you're a zombie in a region that has a reputation of prejudice against minorities and outsiders, you tend to stick out like good taste in a country-western bar."

The sympathy that I felt for Andy upon learning that he's reduced to living in his parents' basement, he can be picked up by the SPCA for taking a walk, and that he's not allowed to see his daughter is gone by the time he begins eating "breathers" and says "I'd hate to think that I'd look at my daughter and wonder how she'd taste in an asparagus and cheese casserole." And it's not only my sympathy that disappears, but also most of the point of the "if you've never..." comparisons, aside from their comic aspect.

All in all, I'd say that this book will meet its best fate as a movie, and it's evidently already slated for the screen. If you like monster movies, this one will be entertaining, but I think I can live without the refrigerator scenes.

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