Zombie tropes? We got ’em

Fiction Friday is filled with zombies in my dungeon this time. They’re pesky undead creatures that I learned to deal with long ago. Sure they try to bite, but they make decent can openers if you time it right so the teeth bite the can and not you. I just light a fire at the entryway of any room I am in and then the zombies stay away unless I put it out. They typically aren’t fans of fire or bright lights. Or bullets to the head. They really don’t like that. And in a pinch my dapper cane smashed into their craniums works. It’s a bit of a pain to wash the blood off though, so I try not to do that too often. Plus it musses my tuxedo and I simply won’t tolerate that.

How do I know so much about these suckers? Well, I’ve read a zombie book or two thousand in my time. Some are great. Cell by Stephen King is an exceptional standout in the genre to me. And of course the now finished but never forgotten The Walking Dead comic book may be the most brilliant zombie story to ever be told, no matter if you are tired of the television show or not.

But I can tell you that those examples are the stunningly rare exceptions in a genre with a zillion books. This week I read Dead in the West by Joe R. Lansdale. I’ll give you a quick summary of the plot, then we are going to run through the zombie trope checklist together and see how many boxes we can mark off. Fair warning, spoilers follow.

It’s old west Texas, and a preacher comes into a small town called Mud Creek. Prior to his arrival, the town had unfairly executed an Indian medicine man and his innocent wife. The Indian laid a curse upon the town with his dying breath and the dead begin to rise. The preacher and his allies attempt to stop the undead, and only the preacher survives with his life.

Here is our checklist

  1. A lone hero with a storied past comes into town – check
  2. A plucky kid meets the lone hero and we know he is going to a. save the life of the main hero and b. die in the end, even though the hero does not like the kid at first. – double check
  3. A beautiful love interest for the lone hero – check
  4. The father of said beautiful love interest is the first one to trust the hero and figure out what’s going on – checkity check
  5. Hands come out of the dirt in a grave yard – this has not been new since Night of the Living Dead and is no longer necessary to any story but we checked this one off anyway!
  6. A mystical force of evil is causing this, even if you can kinda understand where the evil is coming from – large check
  7. The hero is an alcoholic or has some other life struggle – blindfolded I check this box
  8. Hero teaching the plucky kid how to shoot – was this ever in doubt? Check this box!
  9. No one believes the scientist (in this case a doctor) when he figures it out even though the evidence is extremely obvious – check it in bold
  10. Hero admits he loves the beautiful woman even though it’s been a very short time that they have known each other – Put a heart around this check
  11. A total racist jerkwad who basically causes the whole thing and is then torn apart by the living dead – shredded check mark!
  12. A sheriff who could have stopped the damn thing but through inaction allows everything to go on – put a badge on this check
  13. Dead people moving around left and right but most of the people don’t even notice until it’s too late – sneaky check mark!
  14. Body parts falling off shambling zombies – arm shaped check mark
  15. Love interest blowing her own brains out so she doesn’t become a zombie – gore splattered check mark circled with a broken heart
  16. Plucky kid getting in a few distracting licks so that the hero can survive – made this check with my foot
  17. Hero being unable to shoot plucky kid after he is bitten even though that’s the one darned thing the kid specifically asked him to do – put a bullet hole in that check box
  18. Daylight coming along and frying the big bad, but just a little too late to save the town – sun soaked checkity check mark
  19. Hero riding out of town feeling lost and like he failed – lonely check mark
  20. The feeling that you have read this book before – blood read check mark

Okay, so checklist made. Now for a few things that stood out in this book as, umm… different. First, though, I do want to say, this is not by a long shot, the worst zombie book I ever read. I have read a lot of them though so I don’t know how much that’s worth. I feel like the author might have other good books, and he has certainly written a lot of books and won awards for them. I just feel like this one was too typical of the genre to stand out in any significant way.

So the interesting stuff.

There are a few sentences in this book that I didn’t understand. It could be that’s because this story is part of a larger series or it could just be that I’m not catching a reference. But here’s one. “He had the cool, blue eyes of a cold killer – the eyes of a man who had seen the elephant and seen it well.” Umm… I’ve seen an elephant too. And seen it pretty well, I mean it’s kind of hard to miss and I even gave it an address since it was wandering in my dungeon. I don’t think that’s what makes someone a killer somehow though.

Another odd metaphor, “The sun was easing up over the horizon like a sneaky, blond baby raising its head.” Later in the page, “The blond head was coming up faster, strands of light, like fine lines of hair were lightening the lower edge of the sky.” Now, I’ve been down here in the dark for a while but I have seen sunrises. You know what they never, even once reminded me of? An infant’s head.

The preacher who is the hero of the book rolls into town, gets drunk, shoots a spider in his hotel room, leaving a hole in the wall and causing a ruckus, but seems to think people should treat him nicely.

The author at times, seems to have an unhealthy obsession with describing things in comparison (for lack of a better word) to dung. “The river itself was darker than the s***t from Satan’s bowels.” Later in the paragraph, “Up s***t river without a paddle.” An odd image if I do say so myself.

Usually I am not too annoyed with typos and misspellings. I mean, I know I make those mistakes myself, although I do try to proofread my posts before posting. But this one stood out as either an egregious error or a major Freudian slip. Either way it made me laugh. “…Matt said and walked out of the mom.” I wondered to myself how he got in the mom in the first place.

At the end during the climax, the preacher had a line that stood out as ridiculously funny to me in his righteous fury, “Hallowed be thy name, oh Lord – and shotgun do your stuff.” That sentence belongs in a b movie horror film immediately.

And the weirdest thing I have saved for last. Also, the grossest. The preacher is guilt ridden because he slept with his sister. Then he gets attracted to the woman that he says he loves in the town mostly because she looks like his sister. I’ve gone over this before but let’s leave this stuff to George R.R. Marin please. I don’t need to read any more of that. Also, this preacher seems to be mad at God and his father both, for thinking what he did with his sister was not okay. Clue for ya buddy, it’s not.

To review, zombies make good can openers, they can be fun to read about, but most books in this genre have done everything to death (pun seriously intended). If you want an average time of reading a zombie book and have a couple hours, Dead in the West is not your worst option. But if you have higher standards skip this one and read World War Z or something like it instead.

Come back to my dungeon next week when we will continue with the dead theme for no apparent reason as I read Dare to Die (Death on Demand series #19). Is death on demand a video streaming service? Can I get it for free if I sign up for Amazon Prime on Prime Day?!

Forlornly yours,

Slick Dungeon

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