By Chandler Klang Smith
In an underground bunker, sometime in the near future, little Melanie is strapped into her chair and wheeled down the hall to class with her beloved teacher Miss Justineau, even though little Melanie can walk just fine. Little Melanie has lots of questions about her world, big questions, poignant questions, like: why are all the adults so sad? What happened to the cities? And why do I get this funny feeling in my tummy when I smell human flesh?
Spoiler: little Melanie is a zombie. Meta-spoiler: little Melanie is a zombie in the same way Twilight’s Edward Cullen is a vampire, meaning a zombie minus all the really troubling parts. Real talk: The Girl With All the Gifts has its strengths, but zombie fiction can be much more formally, emotionally, and intellectually ambitious than this. Colson Whitehead did it with Zone One (flawed but so, so smart), Manuel Gonzales did it with his short story “All of Me” (perfection), Kelly Link has done it repeatedly (there’s a reason her Twitter handle is @haszombiesinit), and though I haven’t read Bennett Sims’ A Questionable Shape, I hear it’s bitchin’. The premise is no excuse for an irising-in of readers’ expectations; if anything, it’s a lot to live up to. But it’s no fair just to compare a work of fiction to all its hotter siblings, so let’s get into the nitty gritty of what’s going on with this particular book.
By Ryan Joe
Like cell phones, every zombie iteration requires some kind of new feature. The 2002 film 28 Days Later gave us zombies that sprint – which is now de rigueur. And the 2013 video game The Last of Us – likely haunted by a segment from the BBC’s Planet Earth – introduced the fungus zombie.
Entering the mix is M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts, also about a fungal outbreak that turns people into zombies – though pop culture seems to agree that the word is too corny to accommodate our 21st century edginess. They’re all “walkers” or “the infected” or, in our present instance, “hungries.”
Because Girl came out only six months after The Last of Us, it’s probably unfair to compare though I’m having a hard time not because the two have such similar beats. Both feature a zombie apocalypse caused by an outbreak of the cordyceps fungus, a perilous roadtrip to “safety” during which initially hostile characters learn to trust and love each other, and a young girl whose brain is the locus of a possible vaccine – which of course is only accessible by dissecting her.
by Chandler Klang Smith
When I was in college, I was in the habit of going to the local big box retailer and purchasing entirely valueless items that amused me for one reason or another – that stood out as talismans of a mainstream America that, with my retreat into a liberal/creative/intellectual bubble of raucous theme parties and postmodern texts, midnight breakfast and puppeteering assignments, I believed myself to have entirely escaped. I purchased, for example, the Womb Bear, a stuffed animal equipped with an abdominal sound system that emitted a steady whooshing meant to imitate the constant soothing white noise in utero, but which sounded to me like a radio tuned to an ocean planet’s bleakest shore (with an angry, fuzzy face to boot). I bought a zombie cheerleader Halloween costume, complete with a gray pigtailed wig (why gray? didn’t she die as a teenager?). I reveled in the cynicism, the laziness, that was the origin story of all this useless crap. And among my treasures, perhaps most memorable, most hilarious in its sheer failure of imagination, was the magnet, which consisted only of a green strip of Astroturf, adorned with a single glued-on miniature plastic football, the size of a fingernail. FOOTBALL FEVER read the explanatory text, a strip of labelmaker tape stuck on as an afterthought below.
This cake captures the same spirit as that magnet of yore.
Autumn brings crispness to the air, pumpkin syrup shipments to coffee conglomerates, and fresh new TV commercials thanks to the start of the NFL season.
It also brings the long-anticipated return of FOOTBALL BOOK CLUB. In which all members (except for Ryan, who is weak) abstain from watching professional football in favor of reading books. And this year, we’ve got a fantastic lineup:
September 12: The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
September 19: Zero K by Don DeLillo (first half)
September 26: Zero K (second half)
October 3: Untamed State by Roxane Gay (first half)
October 10: Untamed State (second half)
October 17: The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales (first half)
October 24: The Regional Office Is Under Attack! (second half)
October 31: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (first half)
November 7: My Brilliant Friend (second half)
November 14: Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow
November 21: Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi (first half)
November 28: Mr. Fox (second half)
December 12: A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem (first half)
December 19: A Gambler’s Anatomy (second half)
December 26: Kornwolf by Tristan Egolf (first half)
January 2: Kornwolf (second half)
Much like Jay Cutler in Chicago, Football Book Club is back for another year — and you’re pretty much stuck with us.
To kick things off, this week we’re reading M.R. Carey’s zombie horror novel The Girl With all the Gifts .
Tired of zombies yet? Too bad, because Ryan Joe isn’t.
He nominated The Girl With All the Gifts for FBC because “he’s really into cannibalism and because he’s intellectually LAZY and wanted to kick things off with something easy to read.”
By Dan Bjork
How to Be Happy (proper) is preceded by an author’s note that instantly endeared me to the book: “This is not actually a book about how to be happy, however, and if you’re struggling, the following have been helpful for me.” After which, Eleanor Davis lists three books that can be a parachute, if you took the title of her book at face value and are indeed in search of one. In other words, what follows will not provide any single-entendre help. Don’t come here if what you need is a parachute. However, if what you do need is a parachute, here a few that have worked for me.
Which makes this as good a place as any to get into what I got out of the FBC this season: The beginning of a framework with which to talk about mental illness. The sort of ethereal marjoram I’ve thought around, more than about — the sort of stuff I’d never tried to digest in a way that would make any sort of communication about such possible. (And for me, being able to talk about mental illness goes hand in hand with building an understanding of it, of continually approaching a better understanding; I’m having a hard time describing a lifetime of [hopefully] increasing and multi-faceted understand, a process that is never and cannot possibly be complete, without using a word like ‘asymptotic,’ which I just now did anyway.)
By Ryan Joe
I have a confession.
I have been watching NFL football since the playoffs. That, as well as other writing projects, have kept me from updating with any degree of regularity. If you weren’t watching, the playoffs were immensely entertaining, filled with on-field heroism (Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Rodgers), villainy (Vontaze Burfect, Adam Jones), and incompetence (Brian Hoyer, the Bengals).
It’s what makes the NFL so successful. Keep people entertained, and they’ll forget your bullshit.
By Rob Casper
So the season is over for our collective teams. I was walking home last week when I spotted the Cardinals-Packers playoff game on in our local bar. Standing outside in the cold, I followed the waning seconds of regulation but decided to give up right before the last play — I said to my wife, “This is boring,” after waiting through a couple of timeouts. Which was premature, considering the 41-yard touchdown Aaron Rodgers threw. Had I seen that, I would’ve rushed home only to catch the Packers lose in overtime. (I certainly did follow the post-game scandal about NFL overtime rules, which cost the Pack in consecutive playoff losses.)
So what’s the moral? I don’t know. Because of Football Book Club, I’ve probably paid more attention to the NFL — certainly I’m more aware of how difficult it is to avoid. I can’t wait until the off-season, so that while walking past bars or in the airport or at the gym I’ll catch snippets of basketball games instead.
I also ran out of steam with our reading list, before I made it through our “regular season.” I can say this, though: How to Be Happy made me want to extend my poem analogy of my last post on Here. If the latter worked like a poem, the former reminded me of prose poems — snippets of narrative powered by strange and surprising leaps. For instance, here is “The Emotion Room:”
This week, Football Book Club is reading Don DeLillo’s End Zone and Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru’s League of Denial. And we’ll be posting about The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra, along with anything else we feel like throwing in there because football season is just about over and we are all in great moods because the Patriots didn’t make the Super Bowl.
This week, Football Book Club is reading The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra. And we’re posting about The Dirty Dust by Máirtín Ó Cadhain — and How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis and River House by Sally Keith and who knows what else because it’s the playoffs, most of our teams are done for the year, and anything goes.
Zambra was named one of Granta‘s “Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists” and The Private Lives of Trees, translated by Megan McDowell, was called “poignant and thought-provoking” byThe Midwest Book Review.
Dan nominated this title for Football Book Club because: “it centers on the story a man tells his stepdaughter before bed — improvising a new chapter every evening — and I’ve always been interested in characters who are storytellers. Especially when it feels this natural.”