eBook, Paperback, Audiobook
March 11, 2015
Review by Chris Fried
Charles Dudley is your everyday guy in his mid-forties, on disability for a bad back, taking life day by day. After the tornadoes hit, it spreads a virus that creates Deviants, deadly and disgusting zombie-like creatures. While the government tells everyone to leave Queens and the surrounding area, Charles is distrustful and decides to stay and take his chances, as he’s suspicious about all of this. Also, he’s lazy.
Now, you might think the zombies are the plot of the book but think again. This is merely the set dressing for what’s really going on here: an intense character-driven study of Charles, his motivations, his family background, his need for alcohol, his duplicitous alcoholic father, his brother Stewart, his childhood friend Jerry and his failed marriage. This is the journey of one man coping with the impact of all of this on his life combined with the daily struggles of survival in Queens, as the government quarantined the area and won’t let anyone leave, trying to contain the virus. Oh, and he rescues a dog because he can be a softie like that.
Charles is a blue-collar worker, not a survivalist like many protagonists in these kinds of stories. He has no skills to handle the apocalypse and no grand plan. There are no zombie herds, gigantic battles, and heroic sacrifices to be found here. But, he is a learned man in the school of hard knocks. He’s not perfect and he’s disappointed in himself when he cannot find the strength to be a hero when dealing with a predator or prey mentality that brings out the worst in humanity. He is ultimately a very flawed but also caring human being when he wants to be and when he isn’t looking out for number one. This makes him very relatable yet a little bit repulsive at the same time.
However, you can’t help but be drawn into the details of his life and history, as this is what grips you throughout the novel. What Charles has endured we would not wish upon our worst enemy, yet, we come to root for him every single day he continues living in an apocalyptic hell, both in a literal and figurative sense. You feel sorry for him and yet, you can’t help but like him. It’s a complex and captivating juxtaposition that keeps you reading throughout the story.
As he recounts his daily life and his history in a journal format for the length of this novel, we anecdotally examine who he is from his childhood, his tragic family history, and problem-filled marriage, right down to the true light of his life: his young daughter Kate. He’s a man who’s been dealt many bad hands, he laments what he has screwed up and regrets some of his actions that led to even more heartache. This inspired kind of self-reflection shows all his human frailties, warts and all, providing the novel with its heart.
All of this is presented in a unique and commanding authorial voice. It’s quite surprising how the author pulls it off with his prose, mesmerizing storytelling and his distinctive grasp of Charles’ intricate and fascinating psychology. It encompasses you before you even know it. Along the way, you get a ton of profanity, rape, drugs, alcoholism, sexual acts, child abuse and more. You couldn’t tell this story without any of that, however, as it’s a part of Charles’ DNA and the story of his life to date. It’s all perfectly combined into the novel and shares an offbeat, bizarre but highly engaging tale.
This novel isn’t about the apocalypse, though on the surface, you might think it is. What it’s about is Charles raging against the world and his circumstances, fighting back against all the injustices he’s experienced in his life. It explains his need for companionship, sex, booze and the other basic human needs that we all would miss if we were in his shoes. It’s all his way of just trying to feel alive when by all rights, he should be dead by now. Ultimately, this is a superb yet brutally raw character study that is unflinching and uncompromising in its depiction of one man making his way in a world gone sideways.
I read this ebook but I also listened to the audiobook when I wasn’t reading it. Here is my review of the audiobook:
The narrator does a terrific job with his performance of this novel. He not only differentiates between each character really well by giving them distinctive voices, he portrays the wide range of emotions Charles experiences, from deep sadness and regret to violent rage and everything in between, that it elevates the performance to the next level. It enhances the story and brings an extra vivaciousness to it. So much so, when I had a choice to listen to the audiobook or read the book, I chose to listen to it because it was such a strong presentation. And because the novel is being told from Charles’ point of view, it feels even more up close and personal, with a surprising amount of emotional intimacy between the narrator and listener. He even lightly sings a few bars of a couple of popular songs, complete with melody, that’s hummed by Charles in the novel itself! Overall, this is a really fantastic performance!
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