Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament
S. G. Browne
Trade Paper, 320 page, $14.00
Review by Sheila Merritt
So soon … Another New Year’s resolution shot to hell: “No more reviewing zombie novels.” This is a tough one; like vowing never to see another American remake of a foreign horror film. Or checking the weekly grosses of Avatar. Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament has been around for a while, and already made its cultural contribution to the cannibalistic canon. S.G. Browne’s novice novel is on track to be a film produced by Diablo Cody. This should be a (dismembered) hand in glove fit, as Browne and Cody are both snarky stylists extraordinaire.
Andy, the protagonist of Breathers, feels like a loser. He has, indeed, lost a lot: His wife is dead; his daughter has been removed from his custody. In addition, he is undead; this strips him of his rights as a citizen, as well as his place in society among The Breathers. Living in the wine cellar/basement of his parents’ home, he is the consummate boomerang slacker child. His days are spent drinking expensive wines that have little taste, given his condition. The car accident that killed his wife, and subsequently contributed to his zombie state, rendered Andy speechless. He has a chalkboard that he wears around his neck so that he can write responses to questions. After some time spent at meetings of Undead Anonymous, however, a change occurs. Andy finds camaraderie and empowerment; as well as a taste for savory preparations of human flesh.
The initial consumption came in a disguised form; a jar of so-called “venison.” It quickly becomes an addiction with restorative properties; Andy’s speech returns, his limp is not so pronounced. Similar results occur for the other zombies who partake. When the thinly veiled subconscious recognition of the substance is acknowledged, the undead know there’s no turning back: “Killing and eating your parents has a kind illuminating effect on one’s true nature.”
Andy becomes a media darling because of his equality for zombies campaign. Katie Couric and Steven Spielberg vie for his attention. Unlife briefly turns good for him. He falls in love again, indulges in literal “finger” food, and continues to compose contemplative haiku. Reflective by nature, he surmises that there must be a divinity that governs since “only an omnipotent deity could have given human flesh its healing power. Only a supreme being could have been ironic enough to allow the walking dead to impersonate the living by eating them.”
As with the best of writers of zombie comedy, S.G. Browne has peppered his novel with ample warped witticisms; suitable to become catchphrases among the horror crowd. The one most often repeated through the book is “Then you probably wouldn’t understand,” which is used as punctuation to an unimaginable situation. Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament is an entertaining example of the subgenre that just won’t die. It just keeps getting bigger, stronger, and impossible to ignore. If a reason for this surge in popularity demands an explanation, “then you probably wouldn’t understand.”