Title: Hungry For You
Author: A.M. Harte
Publisher: 1889 Labs
Publication date: 5 February 2011
My Rating: 7/10
Source: ARC provided by author
if there’s anything a zombie understands
– Gabriel Gadfly
Who would have thought zombies could be so… tender? To me zombies are gross and scary, sometimes funny, but not much else. Then webfiction author A.M. Harte surprised me with Hungry For You, her collection of short zombie fiction which transcends the typical zombie mythos and uses the hungry, decaying monsters as metaphors for love and obsession. It makes zombies less scary, more revolting, but also morbidly fascinating.
The premise for this collection is that
Love is horrible. It’s ruthless, messy, mind-altering, and raw. It takes no prisoners. It chews you up and spits you out and leaves you for dead. Love is, you could say, very much like a zombie.
In Hungry For You couples are faced with the dilemma of what to do when the zombie apocalypse comes – do you part at death or stay together forever in decay and dismemberment? One lucid zombie takes the latter option, biting his wife so that he doesn’t lose the love of his life: What was it we had promised? For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health….Together forever. I’d made sure of it.
In one of the quirkier stories – “A Prayer to Garlic” – a very mortal zombie is faced with the existential angst of losing love to decay, as well as the amusingly mundane problem of what to serve a conservative mother-in-law for dinner:
Mog had known about my alternative eating habits for months. But it was something we’d hidden from his mother, who was a traditional zombie to the core. She scoffed at the mere suggestion of pork. Not to mention how she’d react whenever she met the chicken-eaters down the road.
“Vegetarians, the lot of them,” she’d say. “I survive on human and marrow pie, and if it’s good enough for me then it’s good enough for them!”
Then there are obsessed-lover zombies, ready to kill (and sometimes feed) for love:
She’d been chasing them with typical zombie hardheadedness for days, her previous lust and love transformed to hunger.
Zombies also act as apt metaphors for depression, loneliness and addiction. A lonely girl living a dead-end life lets infection consume her, perhaps because her existence is already zombie-like. A grieving musician shuts himself in his apartment, writing lyrics, missing his dead girlfriend and getting addicted to some rather dodgy tea.
These imaginative tales take place in a variety of contexts, from isolated incidents, to apocalyptic plague outbreaks, and post-apocalyptic scenarios where zombies rule. Because these scenarios are so familiar now – the outbreak of infection, the dwindling human resistance – that Harte is able to toy with convention and manipulate your assumptions about zombies and human beings. In addition, she is able to focus on her characters without being held back by explanatory details.
With the freedom to explore character, Harte has several different takes on the zombie. Among the classic mindless, flesh-eating creatures, are zombies who think, love and lust, a zombie who manifests as a monstrous rose, even killer zombie swans. In fact, symbols and concepts typically associated with love and romance – roses, swans, promises, hearts, kisses, sex – all get twisted, mutilated, devoured.
Because of the theme, the gross-out factor is pretty high, although in a manner different from normal zombies. There isn’t that much gore, but there’s a lot of intimacy – zombies kissing, implied sex, sexualised descriptions of zombie bodies. But then again zombies are supposed to be really disgusting. Plus, I think the ick-rating of kissing someone with a rotting tongue prevents these stories from degenerating into romance. When I read the blurb of Hungry For You I was worried it would be a bunch Twilight stories with zombies instead of vampires. It’s anything but. Instead it’s smart and spunky, bringing together horror, tragedy, romance and dark humour.
It’s a lot to pack into this very short collection (a mere 84 pages) of short short fiction, but Harte does it admirably and playfully. I enjoyed all the stories, except the last – “Arkady, Kain and Zombies”. It’s a more conventional zombie story and feels underdeveloped; perhaps more like the seed for a novel than a complete story in itself. But other than that I was happy. The stories are so short and punchy you devour them quickly, decide to read just one more, and before you know it you’ve read the whole book.
Hungry For You is recommended snacking for zombie fans, especially thrifty ones – you can buy the Kindle edition for $2.99 on Amazon, £0.71 on Amazon.co.uk, or choose from a selection of digital formats for only $0.99 on Smashwords. And if you’re spending every cent on preparations for the zombie apocalypse, or you just want a good quick read, check out Harte’s fiction for free on her blog.