In an effort to understand the genre I’m pretending to write in, I’ve read some zombie stories. The first was “Autumn” by David Moody which came from a recommendation list I found online. You can view that earlier review post here. Second on my reading trek was “Dust” by Joan Frances Turner. Here is my review of her zombie story, which happens to also be her first book.
Most complaints about Turner’s “Dust” that I’ve found online via Amazon.com or GoodReads.com pertain to the tough stomach needed to read such gruesome descriptions. To be fair, this is a very descriptive book when it comes to the life and death of the living, unliving, undead, and all those we find in between. It is not for the squeamish. However, no description is over the top or unnecessary.
For a truly over the top plastering of descriptions that probably don’t need to be there, one only need to look to the author of “Fight Club,” Chuck Palahniuk. Now, I’ve never read “Fight Club” as it’s never at the library. But I’ve read two other lesser known of his novels (“Survivor” which I thought was brilliant all around and reminded me of “American Psycho” meets TMZ; and “Snuff” which as the title suggests was not for the faint of heart to say the least).
Turner doesn’t do this. Rather than give you a zombie story of gun toting heroes blowing the heads off valueless zombies, she provides a realistic look (as much as one can give with a fictional occurrence) at life in this fictional world. The descriptions are necessary. Similar to “Room” by Emma Donoghue where you get the story from a 5 year old. The description is so natural, but you know pretty quick that what the child is witnessing but not comprehending is the repeated rape of his mother. Turner’s description flows naturally from the character.
“Dust” is a first person zombie story from the point of view of a teenage girl who died before her time. The entire book gives a realistic taste of what such a life would be like. There is no good or bad, only truth. Truth is, they are undead beings. They rot.
Turner takes a classic horror genre and gives it new life. Rather than providing a straightforward zombie story like David Moody, Turner uses the zombie identity to look at life, death, and the human condition. Had Turner used old geriatric patients instead of zombies, people would complain she made old women look disgusting by talking about their incontinence, the way gravity works on the body, and how they literally fall apart at the seams rather than only look at how beautiful the end of life is.
Death is not pretty. Neither is life most of the time. Turner does for the horror novel what Matheson did decades ago.
This novel does have a bizarre second half where the feel of the story changes dramatically, and the end is predictable once you enter the realm of the second half of this story. That said, the ending was appropriate. Anything different would have negated the grotesque first half. This is not only a well-written first novel. This is a solid novel, period.