Recently, I was asked to review some of Joyce Carol Oates’s works by a friend, and I was more than happy to oblige. One of the novels she suggested to me was Zombie, and I thought that was a good one to start with.
Joyce Carol Oates’s novel Zombie, tells the story of Quentin P__, a 31-year-old male who is currently on probation after recently being convicted for molestation of a minor. Quentin’s father, Professor R__ P__ (first names are rarely given and last names never), tries to give his son another chance at success by allowing him to be caretaker of an apartment for college students owned by the family, and by helping him return to college and pay his tuition. Quentin quickly returns to his old habits though, as his carnal desires consume him again. Quentin, a psychopath and a closet homosexual, desires to have a “Zombie” that will fulfill all his desires, physical and emotional. This novel is Quentin P__’s account of his search for the perfect zombie, and all the botched lobotomies that go with it. He is willing to risk his second chance at a normal life in his quest to find his perfect zombie.
I, like most people I’m sure, judge a novel by its first paragraph. The first paragraph of this novel does not draw you in like nineteenth century literature does with its ornate prose, nor does it have the charm of contemporary literature’s fondness for being concise. It’s the unemotional, lifelessness of the first paragraph that creates interest. The way it is written, like a police report, will at least have you wondering what is to follow.
“My name is Q__ P__ & I am thirty-one years old, three months. Height five feet ten, weight one hundred forty-seven pounds. Eyes brown, hair brown. Medium build. Light scattering of freckles on arms, back. Astigmatism in both eyes, corrective lenses required for driving. Distinguishing features: none. Except maybe these faint worm-shaped scars on both my knees. They say from a bicycle accident, I was a little boy then. I don’t contradict but I don’t remember.”
The novel is written as if it were the account of Quentin P__. It reads, as one would assume, the diary of a psychopath’s would. At first I found the liberal use of the ampersand annoying, but reflecting on it further, I saw how it is integral to the style. The narrative of the novel is succinct, and the ampersand lends itself well to conveying this. While most of the narrative is succinct, it is interesting to see when Quentin decides to give superfluous detail to minor things–again an attribute one would expect from a psychopath. My favorite instance is the way Quentin describes the color of his van as “the color of wet sand”. The illustrations throughout, drawn with a black marker, make the novel unique, and reinforce the idea that this is the journal of a psychopath.
The plot has almost no arc. Most of the novel is static with brief moments that piques one’s interest. It isn’t until the second half of the novel is the plot given any direction. Even when the climax does come, very close to the end, it comes off contrived.
This novel ends much like it began, lifeless. We are not given any resolution, or anything to ponder on. All we are given are two sentences.
“Mom called & left a message & the answering tape screwed up & erased most of it. Asking would I come for Christmas dinner probably.”
This novel does not attempt to critique, or offer a solution to society; it does however look to disturb and entertain, and this it does well. The graphic and vulgar language will certainly unsettle the reader at times, and delight those who ‘get off’ on such things. With America’s continued fascination with serial murderers and rapist–proof being the countless shows like Law and Order or CSI populating our channels, and the Investigative Discovery channel itself–it is no wonder such a prolific author, such as Joyce Carol Oates, would choose to capitalize on this. If you have a fascination with the macabre and the obscene, or a fascination with the minds of psychopaths, then I suggest this novel. For the young and frail minded, I suggest you spare yourself the read.
If you wish to purchase this novel, you can here.