Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review: Pariah

Bob Fingerman, 2010, Tor

A global plague has vanquished mankind. In NYC, eight million zombies pack the streets, shoulder to shoulder, waiting for their next meal of human flesh. The residents of an upper east-side apartment block have banded together to survive, but - trapped in the safety of their fortress - soon find themselves starving and at one anothers' throats. And then one day a girl appears outside - a girl who can walk unmolested among the living dead...

Truly good zomlit - as with most great apocalyptic fiction - is never really about zombies; it's about people, and how people react to a crisis. This being the case, there's really no reason why each and every apocalyptic zombie novel shouldn't be fresh, unique and engrossing, as there is literally no limit to the number of different human characters an author can throw together to produce vastly differing behaviour and reactions, either to the zombies or to each other. Pariah is certainly a novel that ably demonstrates this truism, the central characters including some aging Jews, a couple of aggressive jocks, a younger white married couple, a black locksmith, the local 'cat lady' type, a sensitive artist, and the rather odd teenaged girl who enters their lives. Tensions within the group are inflamed by ongoing grudges and rivalries, lust, jealousy and extreme boredom, while the surreal threat of the zombies surrounding the building is counterbalanced by the utterly mundane and more immediate threat of starvation and dehydration, since the residents are unable to leave the building to forage. Fingerman's prose is pure poetry, and right from the outset the narrative simmers with a mix of escalating tension and dark observational humour, leaving the reader in little doubt that things cannot possibly end well here.

Pariah is one of the most enjoyable and engaging reads - in any genre - I've had in a year packed with enjoyable and engaging reads. This is a zombie novel one can safely recommend to literary pundits who wouldn't pick up a zombie novel under any circumstances. Brilliant, brilliant stuff, and a novel that all zomlit fans absolutely must read.

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