Monday, December 12, 2011

Chuck Wendig's "Double Dead" as a Dialectic of Blood or How I got my Kicks on Route 66

As a kid I loved the television series Route 66, maybe because we traveled it, journeying each summer to my father's family home in New Mexico, or maybe because I just liked the idea of a couple of cool guys, speeding along in the hippest car ever made in America, a 1961 corvette, for the simple reason that they could.

Chuck Wendig in his plot-driven, zombie/vampire hybrid, Double Dead, calls upon some of that nostalgic as his vampire hero herds his human flock west to Los Angeles along Route 66 in search of an escape from the zombie apocalypse, not in a corvette but in a run-down, diesel-fueled RV. Rather than escaping their pursuers, however, the travelers, who undertake a quest of sorts, run afoul of the most bizarre, grotesque collection of zombies, cannibals, clowns, and demons, ever assembled in a zombie novel.

Double Dead, although heavily plot driven and grotesque (here I'm relying on the original connotation of the word), is not your usual zombie novel; it overflows with piss and vinegar (Wendig employs this phrase several times in the novel to describe various characters); the prose is super-charged; his chapters are tightly organized,  engineered to lead the reader inexorably into the next; and the story follows a satisfying arc (imagine a snake with its tail in its mouth, the alchemical symbol of wholeness) that begins and ends with the protagonist, the vampire, Coburn. More precisely, as the story unwinds, Coburn comes to understand that if he is to survive he must protect the few humans still alive. His realization is the exciting force of the novel and the girl Kayla, the one who implanted the idea, the reason for the (makeshift or ad hoc) family's journey or quest along Route 66.

The true strength of the novel, however, is the Jamesian turn of the screw that Wendig gives the genre by introducing a vampire, who awakens from a long sleep to discover his food supply has been tainted and destroyed and Wendig's dizzily precise and sometimes comic prose that conjures up brilliantly a red-neck America in the throes of the zombie apocalypse.

As an aside, Wendig will gag if he reads this (because I suspect he is full of piss and vinegar and manly)but I found myself deconstructing the novel, something I rarely do, because I wanted to understand where his book stands within the genre. It was obvious he is well-read in both zombie and vampire literature and that he has a firm grasp on America pop culture. I was particularly taken with the theme of blood as the source of evolution or dialectic (and contagion à la Stoker and Matheson) within the apocalypse and thought it somewhat ingenious. There was, of course, subtle allusions to zombie capitalism, situating the zombies in Walmart, malls, and other shopping areas of America, and a nod to religious imagery and fanaticism in the Sons of Man. Nevertheless, although there is richness underneath the breezy prose and non-stop action, Wendig is too much of a pro to dwell on it and (I suspect) too full of piss and vinegar to admit.

This book demonstrates the usual high standard of editing that Jonathan Oliver and his team at Abaddon are known for and should definitely be on your reading list if you like zombies,vampires or both.

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