The Horror Zine Review
by Jay Wilburn
|Size: 263 Pages
Publisher: Hazardous Press (July 7, 2012)
Kindle: 393 KB
by Jay Wilburn
Review by Christian A. Larsen
A good title invites you in, hopefully, to an equally good story. Jay Wilburn's debut novel, LOOSE ENDS, is about survivors living in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested wasteland...but before you decide that you've read this book before, take another look at the title. It doesn't say 'dead.' And there's a reason for that. The people are the story. The living people.
There aren't that many left, and they aren't special forces, rock stars, or brain surgeons, either. They're just three cooks and a mute boy who have been surviving zombie hordes and raider attacks for about ten years and find themselves with no one to cook for anymore. So they decide to find a new place to live.
I often take issue with horror stories in which the characters put themselves at grave risk (usually in the third act, but not always) to keep the excitement up. Chef, Short Order, Doc, and Mutt leave because there's nothing left for them where they are. It’s a genuine, human motivation—believable and real. They go together, and they do it as safely as they can. The dangers they face are unavoidable. Every twist and turn is earned.
The novel isn't exactly epistolary, but it reads almost like a journal. Wilburn writes as Mutt, the mute teenager, in a compact, terse meter. In combination with the nature of the novel, it reminded me of reading Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD (which is written in the third-person, but still, it reminded me of that book, anyway). He sees the world through the eyes of someone who can only listen, who, because of his condition, is rendered wiser than the average person.
One particularly chilling encounter sees Mutt cross paths with a boy who is continually throwing a ball against the side of his house. Only the boy is a zombie. That simple act of throwing the ball opens up all kinds of questions, such as: what kind of motor skills do zombies possess? And: what do they remember, anyway? Are they us? Or are they golems of flesh? For me, the boy with the ball is one of the great signature zombies, right up there with Tarman fromRETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, the shark fighter in ZOMBI 2, and the bicycle girl from THE WALKING DEAD.
The style plays well, too. It evokes the sparseness the new reality in which these characters find themselves. When a zombie invades the survivor’s camp, Doc dispatches it simply and ruthlessly: "It staggered backward. Its eyes weren’t level anymore and it squealed air through the long dent where its nostrils used to be" (chapter 4). There is no reason for frillier language. It’s a luxury that died with the old world.
Another interesting dynamic that Wilburn plays with is the eat-or-be-eaten nature of the world he's created. Zombies eat people, but people have to eat. With titles like "The Week We Tried to Make Due with Old Ingredients," "The Day We Almost had Two Buffets," and "The Day We Made the Best Burger of our Lives," Wilburn almost makes the zombies sympathetic. They have to eat too, just like we do. It's not their fault any more than it is ours.
The imagery is punchy and disgusting, but not in love with itself the way horror prose, and zombie fiction in particular, can be. It's almost clinical, but written in layman's terms: the zombie's "mouth hung open and I could see the scorch marks on its tongue by the light shining through the hole in the back of its neck," (chapter 5). But just when you start wondering about where the zombie apocalypse came from, Wilburn hits you with a bigger mystery: who exactly are Mutt's traveling companions? The reader, like Mutt, is sucked down the rabbit hole.
And once there, we must ask ourselves who we really are, and how do we define that? Maybe even more central to the point, can we redefine who we are, and if so, how? Self is such a smoky thing, and Wilburn does an excellent job of raising questions with his narrative and letting the reader answer it for him or herself.
You can buy the book HERE.
About the Author
Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in beautiful Conway, South Carolina by day and writes horror by night. He has not set aside time for sleep yet, but he is hoping to add it in the near future. He is a columnist for Dark Eclipse and Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. Follow Jay @AmongTheZombies on Twitter or send him an e-mail directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Reviewer
Christian A. Larsen
Christian grew up in Park Ridge, Illinois and graduated from Maine South High School in 1993. He has worked as an English teacher, radio personality, newspaper reporter, and a printer's devil, and has been published by What Fears Become (Imajin Books), A Feast of Frights (The Horror Zine Books), The Ghost IS the Machine (Post Mortem Press) and Fortune: Lost and Found (Omnium Gatherum).
Christian received his bachelor of science in broadcast journalism from the University of Illinois and studied secondary English education at National-Louis University. He lives with his wife and two sons in the fictional town of Northport, Illinois. Follow him on Twitter @exlibrislarsen or visit exlibrislarsen.com.