Friday, November 27, 2009

Rot, (Skullvines Press), by Michele Lee

When a genre convention is hot, there's the temptation for writers to jump on the bandwagon and cater to that convention wholesale, in the hopes of “riding the wave”. Concurrently, zombies are the vehicles of choice in horror fiction for many writers these days. There's Star Wars zombies, (decently enough done), literary zombies, and even zombie haiku.

“Rot”, Michele Lee's entry into the zombie pantheon, does something a bit different with zombies. She personifies them, gives them emotions and feelings and a painful humanity...then stuffs them into nursing homes and leaves them there, neglected, abused...left to rot.

Retired from the military, Dean is no stranger to death. Here at Silver Springs Specialty Care Community, however, he's faced with something that gives him pause: not death, but the reanimated dead. Silver Springs is a special kind of nursing home housing corpses reanimated by grieving family members.

Like many traditional nursing homes, however, these residents are kept “alive” more to assuage their family members' guilt than for their own welfare. They're treated with a dismissive, wary neglect, or in worst cases they're often abused, both sexually and physically. Dean's job is simple. Calling upon his military background, he's prepared to deal with a zombie's inevitable loss of control over their cravings for human flesh.

Slowly, Dean gets acquainted with two zombies freshly reanimated from the grave, Patrick and Amy, who work at Silver Springs in a voluntary capacity...for now. Until they become too “hungry”. In them, Dean sees a humanity lacking in their keepers; also comes to understand what it means to be reanimated, then discarded. And, when Amy turns up missing and Dean discovers the rotten core that festers at the heart of Silver Springs, his relationship with these two discarded undead leads him on a mission to expose the undead's plight to the world.

Whether the social commentary on nursing homes in general is intentional or not, Lee does the best thing a writer can do with an often-used convention. She twists it back upon itself and uses it as commentary on the human experience, but in the process she doesn't “de-fang” zombies. Their hunger for human flesh is inevitable. They are, indeed, still monsters, but in this case Lee asks readers to consider which is worse: the undead, or those who reanimate them.

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