on October 20, 2009
I knew I was a fan of Joyce Carol Oates after being forced to read her by an English prof in college. She has a perspective and a skill with prose that really impressed my impressionable bachelor's degree mind. I'll grant, however, I am not a big reader and don't keep up with Oates' complete catalog. It was about a month ago when I ran across this title and thought, "Wow, Joyce Carol Oates is doing her take on the latest zombie phenomenon? I need to check this out." Dumb a**. Of course, she's not writing about zombie zombies. But that's kinda what I thought when I started reading it. I didn't know anything about it, much less that this book was originally published more than a decade ago.
I think coming into it virtually blind made the book a more intense experience for me vs. someone who has read the reviews, synopsis and so on. (Kinda like how I enjoyed "The Blair Witch Project" more than most because I went into it blind and believing.)
For that reason, I'm not sure how much I actually want to say about the story. When I got the book, I began reading it right away just because I was in a reading mood. Then I couldn't put it down. I wanted to, though. I felt like throwing up at least four or five times while reading it.
I wasn't finished with the story when I had to put the book down to go make a living. After I'd put it down I was reluctant to pick it up again. I'd pass by it on the bookshelf and give it the stink eye.
Then, finally, the other night all the circumstances collided making it the right time to finish this book.
It's a slim read, practically a novelette. But it's a testament to Oates' abilities. She knows just how to turn a phrase, flip syntax, reroute a time line - like a puppet master pulling at the threads of your emotion. It's so funny how unassuming she seems in person, her lady-next-doorness. She's pretty damn brilliant.
Despite that, I cannot recommend this book to anyone I know because it is just too damn creepy. It would be like recommending rape or something. That's it. My mind has been raped! Okay, well, it's not that bad. Well, sorta. I don't know. I mean, it's basically the journal of a sociopath who describes in calm self-righteous detail his gruesome and terrifying deeds.
It got me to thinking about how a lot of people are like this, maybe everyone. Not the horrifying sadosexual acts, but just that sociopathic drive to get what you want - trudging a path to a self-serving goal without a thought to those hurt along the way.
Yet Quentin is hurt by those he hurt. He finds ways to be offended and victimized by his own victims as he stalks and tortures them - completely insane.
In the end you realize, really, Quentin is the zombie - dead inside, a soulless automaton on a path of destruction. I so desperately wanted to reach through the pages and stop him. But I couldn't. I could only read on, paralyzed. The horror.
That night, after I'd put the book down, I got ready for bed, got under the covers and turned out the light. About 10 minutes later I got up, grabbed Zombie and put it outside on the patio, went back in and locked the door.
Because I'm such a contemplative reader, I usually keep all the books I read. I like to refer back to them, remember lines and phrases. However, "Zombie" is going with me on my next visit to the used book store - it will ride in the trunk of the car, of course. I don't need Quentin anywhere near me again. Though I am afraid he will forever reside in my paranoia.
on May 28, 2000
Zombie repulsed me. The narrator, Quentin P., is loathsome, sick. But in Oates' hands, the brutal serial killer becomes someone we almost know. Oates plunges us into Quentin's world and forces us to acknowledge that his madness is not without its own twisted logic. You see, all Quentin wants is someone in his life he can love and control completely. Zombie's horror is not so much in what Quentin does, but in how he recounts it: He describes his crimes the way my son might talk about his day at school. Zombie is short and taut, more like the novels Oates pens under her pseudonym, Rosamond Smith, than like her longer works. Gruesome, yes, but a compelling read.
In this short and startling 1995 novel, Joyce Carol Oates again proves her expertise and versatility as a writer by getting inside the mind of a serial killer. The book is written as a diary, with bizarre capitalizations and crude drawings. She uses simple prose as the serial killer's dark obsession and demented scheming becomes clear and the reader is drawn into the workings of his mind. It is horrifying. The tension never lets up as one victim after another falls victim to his needs. The worst part is that we have all read the papers and know that there are really sickos like this out there in the world.
on July 4, 2006
Like many of other Oates' books, she gets to the heart of human ugliness and horror, and leaves you feeling as though you could understand, if not be there yourself one day. The main character, Quentin P___, is not exceptionally intelligent, but manages to get through everyday life appearing quite normal while his thoughts are disturbing, feverish obsessions of creating a perfect sex toy - a "zombie" that will service him as desired. This one's hard to get out of your mind after you read it.
"Zombie," the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, is narrated in the first person by Quentin P___, the son of a distinguished professor. On probation for an incident involving an underaged boy, Quentin becomes obsessed with a horrific plan: to kidnap and lobotomize another human being, thus turning him into a "zombie" sex slave.
"Zombie" is a gripping, suspenseful read. Oates' superbly crafted prose really brings you into a mind that is cunning and methodical, yet strangely childish. As Quentin narrates his bloody efforts to create a zombie, he also recalls formative events of his past.
"Zombie" contains many graphic scenes of horrific violence and sex. It is a story of psychological horror that reminds me of some of the work of seminal master Edgar Allen Poe. Oates' horror here is not supernatural, but based in the real phenomenon of the obsessive-compulsive serial murderer. The book is unsettling; what is Oates trying to say? How are we supposed to understand Quentin? But I think the troubling ambiguity is part of the brilliance of "Zombie."
on July 8, 1998
always the author who plunges into the darker aspects of middle-american life, joyce carol oates chose jeffrey dahmer as the subject of her novel "Zombie." her novels and short stories tend to sordidly dig into the dark psychological turmoils of those who live in a "normal" household.
to oates, dahmer could not have been a better subject on which to base a novel. he was from a typical family and spent most of his childhood living in smaller ohio towns. oates manages to successfully show the transformation from troubled boy to serial killer. this is a superb book if anyone cares more to learn about the psychological churnings inside a serial killer's mind than to learn about the tabloid details of dahmer.
oates subtly shows america its own scars (particularly in the aspect of sexuality) in "Zombie." she attempts to show our poisons and how this can affect an unstable boy into becoming a man that we fear, a man one would label "a monster," as we tend to over-simplify. however, oates makes it clear that there are no monsters, only products of a dying society.
definitely one of her better novels, "Zombie" urges the reader to re-think about the ways american society works. "Zombie" also helps him gain a better understanding of the progression from "innocent boy" to "monster." she does this with ease, as it is obvious that oates researched psychological studies on serial killers in order to better write her novel. she understands many subtle keys which make QP (the character based on dahmer) a believable serial killer. QP obsesses over "squirrel" (the code name he has given to a young boy), who, in turn, bears striking similarities to an old love of QP. (many serial killers will stalk someone who reminds them of someone from the past. for example, ted bundy killed women who mostly resembled his fiancee.) QP's actions follow most other serial killer's M.O., down to donald j. sears' widely accepted 13 poi! nts of a serial killer. QP also seems to go through joel norris' seven phases through which serial killers pass as they murder. (for more information, i recommend "serial killers- the insatiable passion" by david lester, PhD.) in order to retain artistic integrity and keep QP a believable character, oates obviously did much research before penning her powerful novel, "Zombie."
written in oates' trademark eloquently simple, yet eerily disturbing prose, "Zombie" is definitely worth reading. it is an especially complete package with the equally simple drawings QP has created for his reader, letting him fully understand his obsessions and tantalize him with his wit.
what causes an unstable boy to become a serial killer? oates outlines many points, from sexual abuse, a feeling of unwantedness, to an over-whelming feeling of guilt and unacceptance. her character QP is believable and is not the typical paper-cut character one has grown to expect in modern novels. using QP as her puppet, oates manages to convey her theories on what psychologically induced dahmer to attempt to create his perfect zombie. it is a unique serial killer study in that it is a work of fiction, yet tells more truth than most tabloid "accounts" of dahmer.
on March 24, 2016
Clearly written as some sort of response to Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, it's unclear to me what Oates was trying to accomplish with "Zombie." Pretty much everything she strives for in Zombie - exploration of the serial killer's psyche, (rather thin) commentary on suburban life, etc. etc. etc. - was done earlier and far better by others. Unless she was trying to create a rather middle-of-the-road genre novel, I don't quite the see the point of the effort.
Largely based on Jeffrey Dahmer, "Zombie" follows the daily life of Quentin P, who never refers to himself or anyone close to him by their full name (except for his sister, Julie). "Q_", the son of a noted college professor, is a convicted sex offender who leads a solitary life as a caretaker/student. Unknown to everyone, Q_ is also a serial killer who is obsessed with creating a mindlessly adoring sex slave, aka a "zombie," via lobotomy. Written as a diary, Oates explores Q_'s daily life as he weens himself off his meds and plans his next attempt to create a zombie.
As a ho-hum horror novel, I suppose it succeeds. As a literary work commenting on late-20th-century suburban mores, it also succeeds, but to a far lesser degree. This is a rather minor novel for an esteemed figure.
I am a fan of JCO; always have been and always will be. She has so many books and this reader has decided to read as many as I possibly can. When I saw ZOMBIE on the library shelf I decided to check it out as it was a smaller novel.
Readers meet one Quentin P, 30-something, who is a serial killer. Quentin has a family who loves him; in fact, his parents will and do anything to protect Quentin and help him through his daily struggles. Quentin has run ins with the law, but dad knows people in high places who continually let Quentin slide through the system. Little does his loving family realize what a monster Quentin is.
Quentin tells his frightening story in the first person. His dream is to create a zombie to call his very own. He studies medical procedures and unfortunately tries to create his dream zombie. Quentin takes us through his upsetting life victim by victim, all the while appearing to trying SO hard to be an upstanding citizen, even though he is a little strange and just plain misunderstood. Poor Quentin!
And what a novel. I must say I was appalled, disgusted, upset, scared, and totally creeped out. Why did I keep reading this very unnerving book? Simply because of JCO's superb writing skills.
I don't think I can/should recommend this book to just anyone -- it is very shocking and detailed. It is very graphic and deals with many deranged schemes. It really alarmed me and I'm not lying when I say I went back around the house and made sure everything was secured. This book is good, but more than likely for a targeted audience.
Why five stars for a book that has quite upset me? Because Oates has the gift of magical writing power and can make a book in the genre a fantastic read.
on February 12, 2014
This book was rather difficult to read. I have a tendency to read a lot of true crime and serial killer type books, so it wasn't the gore that made it difficult. The book was written in a journal/diary style writing. The grammar and punctuation were very choppy. The main character is supposedly rather intelligent, so it seems like even a journal would be more coherently written. I found the overall plot interesting so I continued to read the book despite the difficult writing style. And then it suddenly ended. Even though I found it difficult to read, I was shocked that it ended as abruptly as it did. I wasn't necessarily sad to see it end, but it didn't seem like the story was at a stopping point. A decent plot, but tough to read.
on January 28, 2001
In the disturbing movie thriller SE7EN, detectives Somerset and Mills discover the journals of John Doe, a suspected serial killer. The reams and reams of writings describe, in exacting detail, the day-to-day existence of a man who is clearly insane. After reading ZOMBIE, I would have no trouble in believing I have read a small portion of those diaries.
ZOMBIE is Joyce Carol Oates' ode to the serial killer, a character who has become the subject of a perverse form of fascination in North American culture over the last few years. Whether social critics would ascribe this to a loosening of public morals, or a fear of death, I do not know. But the mere idea of the 'serial killer', the person who methodically kills and kills again, is one that continues to haunt.
Oates is, of course, hardly the first author to plumb the depths of human perversity. Thomas Harris has given us three glimpses into depravity in his last three books: Francis Dollarhyde, Jame Gumb, and Hannibal Lector (from, respectively, RED DRAGON, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and HANNIBAL). Other notables from the past include Rex Miller's Chainsaw (SLOB), Shane Steven's Thomas Bishop (BY REASON OF INSANITY), and of course, Robert Bloch's Norman Bates (PSYCHO). All have attempted, in one form or another, to delve into the inner workings of the mind, to see what triggered the madness within us all.
Oates' first-person narrative takes us into the consciousness of Q_ P_, a young man currently working as a caretaker for a student house. He has had a good upbringing in a stable environment, surrounded by people who love him, and who do their best to understand his actions. He has also just been given probation for the attempted rape of a minor. Through his often childish ramblings and schemes, the reader quickly learns just how dangerous Q_ P_ really is.
Unlike the previous novel's mentioned above, Oates does not provide some clue into why Q_ P_ is the way he is. By his account, there has been no history of abuse, or trauma, that most people would view as the source of his unbalance. What Oates does within the pages of ZOMBIE is to remind the reader that there are no easy answers. People may find relief in an explanation of actions, but Oates refuses to provide this outlet. Q_ P_ is who he is. It's pointless to debate why he is the way he is.
There can be no satisfactory reason as to why Q_ P_ is obsessed with creating a 'zombie' by means of a crude (yet at one time widely accepted) form of lobotomy. There is no reason why he chooses his victims, although there are hints of an instance of unrequited love as a child.
And in the end, the reasons don't matter at all. Oates has done her homework into the patterns that serial killers fall into (the keeping of certain items from the victims, the belief that certain people are somehow connected to them on an alternate level). But the pattern does not explain the individual. Q_ P_ had led no different life than the rest of us. There is no reason why he should become unable to control his impulses and fetishes. And yet, he can't.
This is Oates' masterstroke, the final, absolute refusal to appease societies collective need for closure. Oates understands the primal urge that is, "We fear that which we do not understand". It is precisely because we can't comprehend or sympathize with Q_ P_ that makes him a monster. He's just like everyone else you meet daily. He's the person you sit next to on a bus. He's the person who you talk to on the phone. He's you.