Although Love & Zombies doesn't quite manage to deliver upon the truly twisted potential of its unusual premise, that's probably a good thing, since I doubt few readers would have stuck around for the ugly climax. Instead, Eric Shapiro deftly teases, traumatizes, and torments us, constantly raising the stakes of his darkly comedic brand of over-the-top horror, before he finally relents, ultimately tweaking our expectations with a few twists of his own.
We begin with a narrator who is brutally honest and upfront about his failings, constantly warning us that we're not going to like him. By the time he lays it all on the table, outlining for us just what we've gotten ourselves into, there's still plenty of shock value to the basic premise, but there's also a grudging appreciation for a very real payoff to all that narrative foreshadowing. Rather than growing tired of all the self-depreciation, we're left wondering what he hasn't told us yet.
Henry is a man with a problem . . . okay, a lot of problems. He's a wanna-be writer/director working in a pizza place, dreaming not of Hollywood glory, but of managing his own store. His girlfriend is one of the hottest women on the planet, but the pressure of topping their exhibitionist strip-club affairs has all but rendered him impotent. She is, as he so eloquently puts it, "so hot that she makes mentally healthy other girls rapidly begin to contemplate suicide" with a "face that could make you weep till dawn, then telephone Merriam-Webster when their office opened and demand they work harder on defining “gratitude.”
He only has 2 friends in life, and one of them is a crazy, messed-up, drug-addicted, rich-boy with ties to organized crime. When Sam comes knocking, demanding Henry's help in a money-making scheme that marks a new moral and ethical low for both, he knows he should decline, but not because it's just amoral and wrong, but because Teresa won't approve.
As for the scheme itself, Henry and Sam are planning nothing less than finding a beautiful young woman, kidnapping her, deliberately having her get bit by a zombie, and then turning her over to be bound and restrained for use in a little zombie porn. You heard that right, zombie porn. Try not to dwell on it.
To his credit, Shapiro carries on with that simple premise for about half the novel, presenting us with a psychotic zombie road-trip comedy that makes The Hangover trilogy look like something that Disney passed on for being too cute and innocent. It's funny, action-packed, and completely over-the-top. There's a significant twist about halfway on, where the mission turns from kidnapping to rescue, but the pace never falters, and the humor only gets darker.
Clearly, this is Henry's story, and he develops quite nicely throughout. You can't help but appreciate his deadpan honesty, and his reluctant urges to do the right thing actually make him quite likable. He needs help - mentally, emotionally, and sexually - but he knows it, and isn't shy about admitting it. The introduction of Becca as his sidekick for the second half changes both the story and his character for the better, putting the Love element into Love & Zombies, and allows Shapiro to navigate that crucial twist towards an ending, rather than away from one.
It's a story that is just wrong on so many levels, but Henry works great as a narrator, and some of the language he uses to spin the tale is just priceless. It's both a bloody, catastrophically gory tale that makes perfect use of the 'fast' zombie, and an insanely black comedy that will leave you feeling guilty over every laugh. It's also, at it's heart, a love story - not a normal, happy, romantic one, but a love story all the same. You have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, but if you can trust Shapiro to carry you beyond the zombie porn premise, you'll have one hell of a time.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins