Friday, December 9, 2011
BOOK REVIEW: 'Pariah' by Bob Fingerman
A zombie novel doesn't work the way a zombie film does. It's easier to get bored with the gimmick. The whole shotgun blast to the head thing just isn't as compelling on the page. That's why the best zombie writers, like Bob Fingerman, make the zombies feel less like a plot point and more like a setup for exploring something far more interesting: people slowly going mad together.
Pariah opens when zombies have already overrun New York City. They walk the streets, millions of them, crammed in together like Black Friday shoppers, waiting for a meal that seems to never come. We see glimpses of how all this happened, but it's not where Fingerman's fascination lies. One of the keys to a great zombie story is choosing the right microcosm, the right fragment of a survivor's society to call home for the course of the narrative. For Fingerman, it's a classic New York apartment building.
Some of the survivors inside called the building home before the world went to hell; others came as a last resort. They made it into their fortress, their refuge from the onslaught. Now it's slowly turning into their coffin. Food is in short supply, stifling heat is wearing them down and misery is permeating everyone. Fingerman visits each of them as hope dwindles - a mother who lost her child, an elderly couple living out their final days, a pair of perverted slimeballs, a guy who's trying to make jerky out of pigeon meat on the roof - and then introduces something unexpected and wholly paradigm-shifting.
Suddenly, into this story walks a teenage girl, earbuds stuffed in her ears, walking nonchalantly amid the zombies as the undead horde parts before her. They don't just ignore her. They actively avoid her. She has free reign of this dead city. The tenants of what might be the last inhabited apartment building in New York manage to get her attention, and suddenly everything begins to change.
We live in a world overrun by zombies, and Bob Fingerman's book is a welcome distraction from the humdrum genre puff pieces that permeate bookshelves and DVD racks. With Pariah, he's made zombies an instrument of sincere social exploration and told a tale of invention and wit that's evidence of an enduring talent. Pariah is engrossing from the very first page, and never once does it fall into the predictability that the zombie genre has come to be almost comfortingly counted on for. If you're sick to death of zombies, Pariah will shock your system. In a genre filled with things that are literally and figuratively without life, this is a jolt of new energy.