Although there have been some impressively innovative zombie fiction releases of late—David Wellington’s Monster trilogy (Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet), Andre Duza’s Necro Sex Machine, Mira Grant’s Feed, and the upcoming The Living Dead 2 anthology to name a few—there has also been a lot of mediocre, clichéd stuff as well.
When I began reading Amelia Beamer’s much buzzed about debut novel The Loving Dead, I instantly knew that this was going to be a far from conventional read.
The novel begins with a simply unforgettable sequence when protagonist Kate, a twenty-something slacker who works at a Trader Joe’s supermarket in Berkeley, rescues her belly dancing instructor from a seemingly drunk homeless man after the class has ended and they’re about to get into their cars. With the guy laid out on the street, Kate decides to take her teacher – a sublimely sexy woman named Jamie – to her apartment, where a raucous costume party is in full swing. The two eventually end up in Kate’s bedroom where a little flirtatious touching and kissing leads to a kinky lesbian hook-up. But with her belly dancer instructor tied spread eagle to the bedposts naked and moaning, Kate’s arousal quickly turns to horror.
“Jamie’s eyes were milky white, as if cataracts had suddenly developed. Her mouth was open, her teeth bared. Her skin had turned ashen gray. Jamie licked her lips with a tongue the color of well-done burger. Kate screamed…”
Kate tries to warn her housemates about the looming zombie epidemic but no one seems to believe her – especially Michael, who just happens to be a zombie aficionado. Even after an oversexed partygoer named Cameron straddles Jamie, gets bit, and turns into a zombie before everyone’s eyes, the mood is one of incredulity – the drunken housemates end up crashing in the living room to watch Night of the Living Dead!
But as the zombie epidemic spreads through the Oakland hills, Kate struggles to understand how the dread disease is transmitted – and when she finally does come to that dread revelation, the ramifications are chilling. Zombieism is transmitted by sexual contact and those turned into zombies “were all id and no ego; entirely focused on pleasures of the flesh.”
With civilization quickly devolving into bloody chaos, Kate and Michael vow to meet up at Alcatraz Island, arguably one of the most defensible places in the San Francisco Bay area.
I may be reading too much into Beamer's narrative – something I often do – but for me, this zombie story was profoundly allegorical on a number of levels. The zombies in The Loving Dead were, in a twisted way, enlightened humans. They had no prejudice. They didn’t judge others because of their sexuality, their race, their weight, or their socioeconomic status. Aside from their never-ending hunger for human flesh, there was something really fascinating about the concept of a world inhabited by the oversexed, loving undead.
But it’s the provocative ending that will have readers really talking about this book. It takes place ten years after “the Siege” and contains some intriguing visions of the future.
Looking for an original zombie novel with some real literary weight? Seek out and read Amelia Beamer’s debut novel. You’ll never look at the undead the same way again…
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.
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