[Note: Review originally posted to Amazon.com, where I gave the novel four stars. Slightly edited and rewritten, now, I am reposting it.]
A good number of zombie fans (a group in which I am included) have approached this book as "Stephen King's Zombie Tale". Note that it's review falls into my Zombie section. It is a Romero shout out, down to the social commentary embedded in horror. King even quips the "zed" word as a way to describe the inhuman antagonists. It is much more fitting, though, to think of this book as Stephen King writing a reversion of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Knowing King's reverence for Matheson, this is likely an intentional thing.
While this is a horror novel and has tense moments, I would not say it is suspense in the truest form, not edge of the seat. It is more a notion of curiosity. You feel the need to see it through. A few portions prove me wrong, but the overall effect is one of exploration and of searching. This seems fitting to the zombie genre, in which the best bits are always about something else with the zombies as a horrifying and unbendable background. What is a love of horror but a recognition of what can possibly go wrong in our seemingly safe time? A horror novel or movie or short story or whatever is best when it reminds us most about how thankful we should be in the middle of scaring us to near death. That, or how angry we should be. King is good at both.
I loved his level of description with the gore and with most of the scenes, he is a powerful visual writer. I loved his handling of pop-culture references, and everyday little details. I love the fact that, standard to King, this story is more about how people take the horror and deal with it than the horror itself.
And King knows how to tweak readers. During one of the character's deaths, I realized he had me right where he wanted me. I did not see it coming. I could not comprehend it. I was feeling the same sort of shock that the other characters felt. From that point on, I knew that everyone was game in this novel. There was no guarantee of anything.
It suffers, though, with some of the dialogue This occurs pretty much whenever a character says something tough. There are also a couple points where storylines seem to be building up to be shunted aside sort of oddly. My personal biggest complaint is the way that the explanation for the event, generally accepted as the right one, was universally reached at, as though people from all walks of life came to the same conclusion. veryone also seems to arrive at words like "flock" a little too universally.
King's last couple of novels have been more about the quest and the questions and less about resolutions, which I find to be a perfect counterpoint to earlier neat endings and horror cliche "gotchas", but it leaves some dissatisfied. In fact, the usual complaint against this novel is the fact that it has no ending, not a real one. It merely gets to the end of one chapter, and as the next is about to begin, we leave the characters behind. I will say that it works well and hit with a great impact. The world has been consumed by zombie-like things. How much of a neat, happy ending could you really expect? Still, some are bound to feel like the novel failed them.
Overall, though, the complaints did not detract from the book enough to keep me from thoroughly enjoying it and consider it one of my favorite Zed-word novels.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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