A few years ago, I read a zombie book titled Dying to Live: A Novel of Life Among the UndeadDying to Live: A Novel of Life Among the Undead by Kim Paffenroth. The story is about a man who finds a survival group at a museum, and all the horrible things (by horrible, I mean the kind of shit that would give Brian Keene nightmares) they have to overcome in order to hold on to their renovated fortress. While I was reading the descriptions, I kept thinking of our local museum.
Well, guess what? Turns out that the author lived in Grand Rapids, MI at one point in time – my area! According to the author’s note in the back of the book, the museum and surrounding area was based on the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Now I can’t go to the museum without picturing everything the survival group did in the novel. Thanks, Kim…like I wasn’t disturbed enough. (See Zombie Survival From a Stay-At-Home Mom for further explanation.)
One of the characters was a young boy named Popcorn. He’s a child who loses his mother after zombies overwhelm their rescue station, and he’s forced to fight zombies by himself. I was sickened by Popcorn’s unspeakable experiences – a parent’s worst nightmares. It’s not often you find an author willing to make a child one of the main characters…and then put them through the nine circles of hell.
I was pleasantly surprised when Paffenroth wrote Dying to Live: Life Sentence. The first novel could easily have been a stand-alone, but the sequel begins years after the first story ends. The kids are approaching adulthood, and Popcorn has become Will, which I found interesting; if not for his strong will to live, he wouldn’t have survived the shit in the first novel. Believe it or not, Will seemed to be one of the most well-adjusted…he doesn’t even freak out when he discovers Truman, a zombie who can think and communicate.
After reading the second book, I pleaded with Paffenroth in my review to write at least one more. He’s was so busy writing other books (see Kim’s blog at http://gotld.blogspot.com/ ), I couldn’t really expect that he would see my review and say, “Sure, Ursula, I’ll get right on that.” Regardless, I officially became a huge fan of Kim Paffenroth, not only because of his zombie novels, but because he is a professor of religious studies…which had me thinking, could he be The One? You know — the one who can measure up to Romero’s legacy of mixing zombies with social commentary. He was well on his way with D2L2.
Less than a year ago, I started following him on Twitter, and one day he announces Dying to Live: Last Rites is in the works. I tweeted him, and begged him to let me review an ARC when he was finished. Then the sky parted, light shone down on my laptop and I received a message from Paffenroth inviting me to read as he wrote…needless to say, I am one of the few privileged who has already read Dying to Live: Last Rites.
A new dilemma has been introduced into the zombie survival mindset. Instead of the typical “kill me before I turn” decision, the characters realize it’s possible that they could turn into one of the thinking undead…so, getting infected doesn’t necessarily mean the end of life after all.
Unlike the traditional zombie novels, this is a story about the undead trying to escape the living…the living who are no longer the only “survivors” of the zombie apocalypse. Many authors/directors have tried to humanize zombies, but no one has come close to what Paffenroth has accomplished with Last Rites. Not only do we see the development of Rachel and Will’s relationship, but we are given intimate details of the relationship between the zombies, Truman and Lucy. We watch as the group of friends is pulled apart when faced with survivors who are rebuilding a society that exploits the thinking undead. Everyone suffers in this novel.
When I read the first D2L novel, I was impressed that Paffenroth had made a child one of the main characters. In the third novel, he brings in zombie children. Not the ankle-biting kind; these zombie kids can think too, and they aren’t as innocent as their human counterparts.
The story itself is told from the views of Will, Rachel, Truman and Lucy. There is no good survivor vs. bad survivor, no living vs. undead. No one fits into a nice, neat stereotype. Life isn’t easy, and death isn’t either.