Thursday, 28 October 2010

‘Hungry for your love (An anthology of Zombie Romance)’ – Edited by Lori Perkins (St. Martin’s Press)

We all see books on the shelves that grab us straight away and have us resolving to read them as soon as possible; if you love books then you’re pretty much resigned to this happening almost on a daily basis. Whether it’s some fancy cover art, the catchiest title ever or a really gripping blurb... we’ve all been there and come away from the bookshop holding a book that we don’t quite remember buying but are really looking forward to reading.
One thing that can grab me is the concept that a book is based on; I’ve got more than a few books on the pile that I’ve looked at and thought, ‘sounds like a cool idea, wouldn’t mind seeing where they run with this one...’ Every so often though, I find a book with a concept so outlandish that I’m left thinking that I just have to read the book to see where the concept ends up. ‘Hungry for your love’ is that book...

Urban Fantasy is brimming over with various supernatural creatures getting it on either with each other or with the feisty heroine (who’s also vulnerable with lots of issues) that always seems to make an appearance. What you don’t see a lot of though (if at all) are zombies finding true love, or even just sex, in these books. It’s not surprising really, given that the one thing zombies are after is a quick meal and anything more strenuous than that is liable to make various rotting body parts fall off.
Are writers being a little unfair on zombies though? Does a zombie not have physical needs (other than all the brain eating)? Does a zombie not look at a young couple and wish for the same intimacy with a rotting partner of his own? These were the kind of questions facing Lori Perkins and the only way to answer them was to come up with this anthology. Your questions will be answered; mine certainly were although perhaps not in the manner that I was expecting...

I guess that the big problem anyone is going to be faced with, putting together a collection like this, is how to present it so that it doesn’t just come across as an attempt to commercialise necrophilia. I mean, that was my first thought when I saw the book and I’ll bet that you were wondering as well...
Perkins sidesteps this issue by broadening the remit so that pretty much any scenario goes, just as long as zombies are involved in some way. The end result is a wide range of interpretations on the theme. Most of which seem to end up coming back to the same thing...

I know I’m old fashioned about this but romance and sex, they’re two different things right? One can lead into the other but one shouldn’t be mistaken for the other, surely? Unfortunately a number of the stories here make that mistake, at least as far as I was concerned.
Stories such as Jaime Saare’s ‘I Heart Brains’, Elizabeth Coldwell’s ‘Everyone I love is Dead’ and Francesca Lia Block’s ‘Revenants Anonymous’ seem to want to get the zombie theme out of the way as quickly as possible and just get straight onto the sex (which all comes across as staged and contrived, I’m looking at you ‘Last times at Ridgmont High’ although I did love the sheer energy of this tale). Fair enough if that’s what you’re into (and you can’t deny the energy in these tales) but it did leave me wondering what these stories were doing in the collection, there was very little romance (although I’ll concede that this may mean different things to different people) and the zombies didn’t get much of a mention either. I can’t remember which story I saw this phrase in but if we’re talking about zombies, surely we should be using phrases like ‘cold and virulent’ instead of ‘hot and virile’ and that’s really the point I’m trying to make. At the other end of the scale Mercy Loomis’ ‘White Night, Black Horse’ kept the focus entirely on a growing relationship, between two zombies, and was all the more coherent for it.

It’s a shame then that you have to go through stories like these to get to stories where the authors have perhaps paid a little more attention to the remit and come up with some genuinely thought provoking stuff. Top of the list for me was Brian Keene’s ‘Captive Hearts’, not surprisingly as I’m a big fan of his work. Romance is about the little things as well as the grand gestures and Keene’s tale of a woman staying true to her love, in the face of a worldwide zombie apocalypse, captures this to a tee. Being a Brian Keene story, ‘Captive Hearts’ also captures the vital essence of the zombie apocalypse and delivers a couple of moments that will make you jump...
The stories that seem to resonate the most, in this collection, are the ones where a loved one’s death is survived by a partner who must somehow make sense of things when their spouse returns. These moments are when the romance in any relationship is put to its sternest test, offering writers plenty to explore. Michael Marshall Smith’s ‘Later’ takes this task on to great affect, offering its readers a poignant vision of love after death. Jeremy Wagner’s ‘Romance ain’t Dead’ adopts the same approach but loses the sense of tenderness, prevalent in ‘Later’ by focussing on the conclusion to the detriment of the character’s feelings for his wife.

Another thing that I particularly enjoyed, in ‘Hungry for your love’, was the approach that some writers took in terms of what ‘romance’ actually means. Romance is all about the gestures but these gestures don’t have to mean flowers and chocolates all the time and this is something that’s highlighted more and more as the book progresses. A romantic gesture can be anything from going back to save your girlfriend from a zombie siege (Gina McQueen’s ‘Apocalypse as Foreplay’, a story very cleverly based around a throwaway line from ‘Dawn of the Dead’) to using the relative immortality of being a zombie to make sure that a wrong goes some way towards being righted (Regina Riley’s ‘Undying Love’, I saw the ending coming way before the main character but that didn’t make it any the less bittersweet). Zombies may be the same the world over but romance can take many different forms and that is what makes these particular tales so memorable.

Your definition of what romance is what will ultimately determine how much you get out of ‘Hungry for your love’. Despite some stories missing the point (as far as I was concerned), there was still plenty there that touched a nerve. If romance can get into a zombies rotting heart then it will find its way into yours as well. Give this book a go if you fancy seeing zombies behave a little differently.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

3 comments:

Steve Saus said...

Hey, I'm glad you enjoyed the anthology overall - and that you enjoyed the romantic stories as well. (If I remember correctly, mine's the only one without sex in it...)

Thanks for the honest review!

ReginaRiley said...

Great review! Thanks for the comments and compliment. I'm glad you still enjoyed my tale regardless of the obvious ending. (I worried about that when I wrote it, but you assuaged my fears!)
@Steve, you weren't the only one without sex. Mine didn't have any either.

Mercy Loomis said...

Awesome review, I love the different themes you touch on. Glad you liked my story, thanks!