I've just finished reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a YA novel set in a apocalyptic landscape beset by zombies who loom just a rickety old fence away. The book was a NY Times bestseller and is currently being fast-tracked into film production.
And why not? The book is solidly, if not spectacularly, written, and the plot moves along every eight pages or so, like clockwork. In fact, the novel's construction reminded me a lot of The Hunger Games-bare bones young lady narrator trying to fight her way through a terrible, bleak world, getting by in every chapter by the skin of her teeth-and they both reminded me of a first person shooter video game (which Stephen King also pointed out in his inevitable Hunger Games review). Both take respites throughout the plot for a little romantic entanglement, a little one or two page analysis about their narrator's feelings, preferring to both directly tell AND directly show what's going on with their character throughout-if these books actually were video games, they'd have a half-dozen bars at the bottom of the screen where you could monitor things like SADNESS and ANGER and RESOLVE.
And both books, unfortunately, left me feeling a little empty after their last page. There must be something about extreme circumstances (like fighting for your life every fifteen pages) that makes a novel's characters two-dimensional, no matter how much their author's have valiantly tried to provide a flesh and blood set of characters, not to mention the narrator herself. You could swap the two narrators in The Hunger Games and The Forest of Hands and Teeth and I'm not sure you'd be able to tell much of a difference.
I've began to wonder if the post-apocalyptic landscape provides more creative limitations than I'd previously thought. No matter what the plague (zombies, vampires, or (ahem) suicide) such landscapes invariably create the same steely-eyed set of survivalist characters in the same bleak environment. I've been reading through The Walking Dead comics as well, and as finely crafted as they are I keep running into the same question/problem: Why should I care about these people? Is it because any attempt to depict a post-apocalyptic world runs into the same difficulties as depicting a truly alien race and making their lives resonate in the mind of the human reader? Are they too far gone?
Obviously, given the success of these products (millions of sales can't be wrong, right? Right???) not everyone shares my difficulty in connecting to them. Perhaps my own experience with The Suicide Collectors, both creating my own post-apocalyptic landscape and then trying to guide it through the publishing maze has left me post-apocalypse fatigued. Or maybe I'm just getting older and fail to see the glamor in a life where you have no choice but to focus on survival-or maybe that's too close to how I see life right now, waiting for spring to come and the phone to ring with some good news.
Anyway, I'm about to start slogging through The Passage. The fight goes on, right?