Monday, July 19, 2010

Passing Strange

Passing Strange, by Daniel Waters, is the third in a series (see my reviews of Kiss of Life and Generation Dead), and I thought it would offer a conclusion to several ongoing mysteries, but instead it leaves readers with questions that have been unanswered for the duration of all three books, which is the point at which I begin to lose patience with a series (will there be a fourth book? My reading of the author's blog and the blog "written by" zombies from the series does not reveal that mystery, either). On the other hand, Passing Strange is a good enough story that I read it in one sitting and finished it the same day I bought it.

The main character of this book, Karen, is "passing" as a live person even though she's really a zombie, much as light-skinned African-Americans could sometimes "pass" in the early decades of the twentieth century. In an entirely predictable plot development, she was in the closet about her sexuality while alive and is just beginning to come out of it in her "undeath." She's also "passing" among the zombies as one of them while worrying that they might also hate her because she is "coming alive" by being able to heal from bullet and knife wounds.

Discrimination against the "undead" continues unabated, with details about various characters to bring the feeling home to readers, like when Karen is questioned by the FBI and her father learns about it afterwards:
"You spoke to federal agents without us even getting a phone call?" he said, really spun up.
"Dad," I said, "they aren't required to tell you anything. We're dead. We're not citizens. In the eyes of our country, we're non-persons."

There are a few educational scenes with Karen that show the ways depression can affect a teenager--it's evidently what caused her own suicide, and she calls it "the blue fog."

The most fun I had reading this book was hearing the hate-religion-fanatic, Pete, explain why he hates zombies:
"the demons' art is subtle, and the devil has many ways to ensnare a human soul. It would seem like the easiest thing to do is to go out with some right-thinking people and destroy every zombie you find, right? But the media puts it out there that the zombies are the victims, not the aggressors."
This was fun for me in specific ways. One, it's similar to what the John Freshwater supporters in my small town have said about media coverage of his trial. Two, I'm always wondering what goes through the minds of my kids' friends who belong to local churches that preach homophobia, and imagine that the term "right-thinking" can't be that far off the mark. Three, it's scary to realize how close you've come to someone who would, under different circumstances, be glad to take a shot at you; I bought a bag of apples at this week's farmer's market from a personable man and then, as I was walking away, saw that he had business cards on his table for Freshwater's tree farm and was glad I hadn't told him my name, as I've very publicly stated my position against the teaching of creationism in public schools.

So yes, this is a scary book. But it doesn't reveal what the true purpose of "The Foundation," featured since book one, is, or what the goal of its secret leader, "The Reverend" might be in the end. It doesn't show much about what kind of struggle is necessary in order for a reviled segment of society to reclaim its rights in an American society.

What it leaves me with is the unsatisfying answer of the Harry Potter books, "love." The most highly functional zombies are the ones who are loved. Okay, I did stick through six books before getting much more of an answer than that from Rowling. But I would sure like some indication from Waters that it's worth sticking with his series--something more than the lame joke that it would make a fellow zombie "feel badly" if Karen told him one of her many secrets.


edj3 said...

I really enjoyed World War Z but I'm not sure I'd like the combination of zombie stuff and social commentary. I guess I'm more one dimensional than that.

Anonymous said...

I am not a fan of traditional zombies in fiction, but I do like a supernatural underclass. How does he deal with the whole decomposition thing?

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, this isn't your typical zombie novel, it's true.

villanegativa, these zombies don't decompose; they're in whatever state they were left in by death (bullet holes, etc.) (one has a torn face because he died in a motorcycle accident). There's one who gives himself something like zombie tattoos--he peels the skin off his abs and stuff like that. Karen was shot in her undead state and then the bullet holes healed, which makes her different from the others (Adam, for instance, who still sports the bullet hole he died from).

FreshHell said...

I think I'm over zombies and vampires.

Jeanne said...

Freshhell, I'd think of these more as novels about an underclass (to use villanegativa's term) than about traditional zombies. The zombie angle is largely metaphorical.