‘I’ve Been Deader’ review
‘I’ve Been Deader’ is a comedy-horror novel about a sudden uprising of zombies in America. Unlike more traditional zombie narratives, ‘I’ve Been Deader’ provides the reader with the unusual perspective of one of the ‘undead’, Fred. Unlike more traditional zombies, Fred is a ‘thinker’ and preserves memories of himself from his life; most significantly, memories of his son, Timmy. As the novel progresses, Fred discovers that he has the capacity to control other zombies. Through his ingenuity, the ‘undead’ have an outside chance of triumphing over the living.
My first reaction to this book was torn. On the one hand, it would be a difficult title to market: the writing is crass in places and occasionally clichéd; the characters are hyperbolised and largely disagreeable; and the narrative does not fit easily within any set genre. However, despite this, I found myself enjoying the reading experience and eager to continue. Whilst the comedy standard was rarely “laugh out loud”, there were moments of brilliance and, generally, a confident use of form and language that overrode many of the other issues. I have read a good number of books on authonomy and I believe this included a collection of “Shorts” by the same author, which also illustrated the same sense of craft and strong narrative voice.
To improve this book’s appeal to publishers, there are a number of edits that I’d suggest the author consider. Firstly, I often found the comedy a little too tactless and self-conscious. The humour in ‘I’ve Been Deader’ works best when it is character and/or action focussed (Jon Tanner’s conversion to a dark warrior; Stanley laughing hysterically as he prepares to burn Janet’s body; Osbourne’s bugbears about grammar – I could go on). In contrast, quips and puns voiced by the narrative often came across as either forced or overly culturally specific – sometimes both. I’m thinking specifically of lines like:
“The zombie virus, if it was a virus, had spread like wildfire, completely surprising the shit out of the world, except maybe for Haiti.”
“Those cheap fluorescents could make Mel Gibson look like a Jew at a KKK bake sale.”
Such lines generally felt like ‘cheap’ one-liners that added nothing to the reading experience. They also mean that the book will age very quickly, and may well be alienating for non-American readers. On a similar note, I found the narrative could, at times, be overly sarcastic towards the characters, which often distracted from the characterisation. For example, when describing Ellen’s fear of technology, it is not really necessary to include “shudder” in parenthesis – we’ve already been told that she finds the internet “vaguely horrifying”.
What I liked most about this novel was the construction. Rounded, stand-alone chapters that read almost as pieces of flash-fiction are very appropriate for the growing market of modern readers who expect content to be bite-sized. Occasionally this resulted in moments of repetition, but these were rare and, as with many of the other areas of weakness in the manuscript, could easily be edited out.
Even with these revisions, the question of whether this novel is too ‘niche’ to be taken on by any major publishing house will likely remain; however, there is sometimes a place for eccentricity. I was unexpectedly impressed by the chapters that I read and would be very happy to read a complete manuscript.