Breathers (A Zombie Lament) tells the story of Andy, a recently reanimated corpse that is struggling to adjust to his new found ‘undeadness’. He doesn’t know why he woke back up a few days after dying in a car accident, in fact no-one does & their far from happy about it.
The re-animating of the dead is not common place but it’s got the government panicky enough to make life after death pretty unattractive for most zombies. The shuffling dead we get here aren’t the Romero flesh eaters but that doesn’t stop people still treating them with disgust & shame.
Stripped of all rights & treated worse than some animals, being undead is humiliating & very boring.
That boredom & need for something to change might explain why Andy wakes from an alcohol filled bender to discover he’s killed his parents, dismembered their bodies & stored the parts in the fridge. Andy should be shocked (once he stops marvelling at his own impressive use of space in the fridge/freezer) but he knows deep down that this was brewing ever since he became one of the undead.
As his legal guardian (Andy is a grown man who was married before his accident but zombies must have a ‘breather’ to account for them) his parents weren’t exactly pleased with his return least of all his Dad.
Not that it matters now, his heads in the fridge.
Before we can find out the whys & how’s of Andy’s parents the book jumps back to shortly after Andy had reanimated & the events that led up to the surprise in the fridge.
A tongue in cold cheek take on the well-trod path of zombies is very welcome here as we see everything from the point of view of Andy. Watch as he grows into his zombie skin, meets other undead at AA style meetings, falls in love before realising that it’s not them that needs to change but America.
There is no escaping the fact that Breathers attempt to deal with zombie rights & the oppression of things that just want the right to walk down the street without being hounded is drawing clear inspiration from the Civil Rights Movment. A subject matter that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Thankfully here it is treated with respect & understanding (the latter is so important) & for all the comedy moments of the book, the tale is still a dark one. Why can’t a zombie get on a bus? Why can’t a zombie sit in a park? Why is it ok for frat boys to steal a zombies arm as part of an initiation?
Breathers doesn’t try to answer these questions for us. It can’t, for you see, as Andy would say ‘America can’t change overnight’.
The story gets a little lost in the latter half as the zombies discover that eating a bit of human flesh has rejuvenating abilities as well as just being the best thing they’ve ever tasted. It means the ‘rights’ part of the story takes a more backseat role, a pity as I found that to be the most interesting parts of the story.
For all its light-hearted puns & jokey moments, Breathers is quite graphic & violent when it wants to be. These moments are quite shocking as they often come out of nowhere even if the story has given us plenty of clues & warnings. The finale in particular is incredibly brutal & left me feeling slightly empty inside.
That’s the mark of a great story.
Breathers (A Zombie Lament) (S.G. Browne)