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Fiend: A Novel Paperback – April 8, 2014
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“Shockingly personal...Shaun of the Dead meets Trainspotting.” —MTV.com
“Shambling, scabrous figures rotting from the inside out and driven by an insatiable hunger—there are more than a few similarities between meth heads and zombies. Stenson exploits all of them in Fiend.” —Entertainment Weekly
“[Stands] apart from the pack of zombie lit...Stenson has a sharp ear for language and a gift for dark humor.” —Denver Post
“Best read of the year. Best zombie book, ever. Masterful illustration about how painful and overwhelming addiction can be...I want every book I read to enthrall me as consistently and emotionally as Fiend did.” —SF Signal
“Certain to invite comparisons to Hubert Selby and Cormac McCarthy…one scalding pressure cooker of a novel, and I advise you to buckle up and hold on tight because you're in for one hell of a ride.” —Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Devil All the Time and Knockemstiff
“This is the real meat. The last zombie novel you'll ever need.” —Warren Ellis, New York Times bestselling author of Gun Machine and Twisted Little Vein
“Peter Stenson has done the near impossible in delivering a savage fire-storm of a page-turner while also enabling a hard and earnest look at addiction and love. I tore through Fiend with the crazed fervor of an addict, but like all great stories these characters lingered in my thoughts long after I turned the last beautiful and brutal page.” —Alan Heathcock, National Magazine Award-winning author of Volt
“Peter Stenson is the bastard child of Cormac McCarthy and George Romero. In Fiend, he takes the reader on a dark joyride replete with junkies, zombies, and buckets of gore. Here is a novel that will jack your pulse and break your heart all at once.” —Steve Almond, New York Times bestselling author of Candyfreak and Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life
About the Author
PETER STENSON received his MFA from Colorado State University in 2012. His stories and essays have been published in The Sun, The Bellevue Literary Review, The Greensboro Review, Confrontation, Post Road, Fugue, Harpur Palate, The Pinch, Blue Mesa Review, and elsewhere. He is also a recovering addict and has been sober for 10 years. He lives with his wife and daughter in Denver.
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Here is what I liked about FIEND. The story takes place within the course of a week. Instead of chapters, each section was broken up by a day of the week. Combined with Chase's (our main character) first person narration, it was a very quick read and gave it a journal like feel.
To add to Stenson's unique style of writing is his imaginative use of figures of speech, in particular similes, and sensory details. Here are a couple of examples:
"Blood spouting like Old Faithful."
"She pulls at the intestines like saltwater taffy."
"She's still there and her dress isn't a Jackson Pollock anymore, just red. So's her hair."
"I turn to see Typewriter at the top of the stairs and then look back to the girl sitting there like a used tampon."
If you haven't figured it out yet, let me clarify. This novel is not for the faint of heart or for those who are easily offended do to offensive language. The story and images the author creates with words are raw and dirty. Some parts are so vivid that I seriously felt sick to my stomach at times, and I'm not even talking about blood and guts. I'm talking about the effects of being a hardcore meth addict and the way Stenson uses the senses to describe these habits, the picking of scabs, their bodies and hair greasy and filthy because they haven't bathed in days (and that's before the zombies make an appearance), smelling like "period blood". Hey, his words, not mine!
What I really liked about FIEND and what makes this novel stand out is its unlikely hero, or I should say antihero. Chase is a meth addict and what I like even more is that Stenson didn't make him a stereotypical addict. Most people assume that if a person is on drugs it's because they had a s***** childhood, come from an abusive home, or maybe their parents battled addiction and they are just a product of their environment. But we rarely get to see the other side. As the story unfolds, Chase reveals that his family had money. His parents loved and supported him and did everything within their power to help him get clean. While I did sympathize with him at different parts in the story, I found it harder to find sympathy for a person who had a pretty decent life but pissed it all away because he wanted to rebel as a teenager. And even Chase felt shame at times because of this very fact.
Stenson also interjects well-paced humor throughout FIEND and has created quite a few interesting characters. Chase's best friend is nicknamed Typewriter and he just so happens to be the only fat meth addict that he knows. There are quite a few cinematically funny (at the same time nail-biting) moments when zombies are bearing down on them, Type gets physically stuck, and Chase has to help him out. Yet just when you think Stenson has stereotyped him as the fat, wimpy best friend that is scared of his own shadow, Type does something courageous. He's the one who teaches Chase how to shoot a gun. He's the one who drives them out of more than one sticky situation and waits for Chase even when zombies are snapping at their heals. But if I had to pick a favorite character, it must be the Albino, Chase and Typewriter's meth cook. Yes, I said THE Albino because that is how he prefers to be addressed. Not only is he one of the most paranoid, smartest, and eccentric of the bunch (he's the only one who prepared years in advance for a zombie apocalypse), he also serves as the comic relief in the story. I'm not going to give you any examples since the majority of his comments are quite vulgar and I don't want to offend anybody (which really makes no sense if you plan to read this book, but whatever), suffice it to say that THE Albino is one character you will not soon forget.
I don't want to get into too many details about the zombies themselves as I don't want to spoil everything, but I do like that Stenson tries to inject some unique qualities. The one thing I will say is that they...chuckle or...giggle instead of the moaning we are used to. This is why Chase and his little posse call them "Chucks". It may sound silly but imagine a little girl covered in blood and dog intestines coming at you while giggling. Creepy, right? 'Nuff said.
Another thing that I found interesting and probably is the most important aspect of the novel is the philosophical questions that Chase ponders throughout the story. For example, Dead vs. Undead. Aren't they already dead, living that kind of lifestyle? What makes them any better than zombies? At first I didn't quite get it because even though he is an addict, how can you compare a living, breathing human being to a zombie? But oh was I wrong. Just when I started to like Chase, there would be a flashback scene or a part where he remembers something horrifying that he did in the past in order to get high. And let me not even get started with some of the things he does and choices he makes throughout the novel that shocked and disgusted me. But that is what I think the point of the story is. How far will an addict go to get their next fix? What this story left me asking is this: are they trying to survive the apocalypse or are they doing it for their next fix?
So here is what I had issues with. There were a few minor things that I still feel torn about and it really all depends on how you look at it and what the author was actually trying to convey. While I did like Stenson's unique writing style, it took some time getting used to. As I stated above, it is written in first person narration but here is the problem: there are no quotation marks used with the dialogue. A part of me liked the unstructured format because it made me feel like I was reading Chase's personal journal. But because no quotations were used with the dialogue, there were times when someone was speaking or multiple people were having conversations around Chase and I couldn't figure out right who was saying what. I had to stop occasionally and reread to figure it out. At times even Chase's thoughts got jumbled up when other people were talking. Thankfully, Stenson gave each of his characters distinct voices, so it wasn't too hard to figure out. But confusion did happen and who wants to get pulled out of a story because they have to stop and reread a section since they can't figure out who said what?
It probably is no surprise that characters start to be picked off towards the end. I really can't get into too much detail here because I don't want to spoil anything. But my issue lies with the hot and cold feelings I kept getting with certain characters. There are times throughout the story where I felt I had a good sense of the type of characters I was reading about. But then they would do something that seemed way out of character. At one point I got so angry that I wrote a list of things I wanted to call the author out on but then I started to wonder. Is it the addiction that caused these characters to do random things that were shocking and unexpected? I'm still torn on this one.
My last issue is the way FIEND ends. I would have to agree with other reviewers that it was almost as if Stenson got tired of his own characters and just walked away. It ends so abruptly that I thought the galley I had received was an unfinished draft. But no, it's the way the story ends. Sometimes ambiguous endings are cool and thought provoking. But I fail to see the ambiguity. I was at first extremely distraught, and felt like I had invested my time yet was rewarded with no type of closure. But again I am torn because...I have this feeling that...this is not the end. I won't say any more but after I had some time to calm down and think, I do see the potential for a sequel. I can only hope that is why Stenson ended things the way he did.
Some may argue that FIEND by Peter Stenson is not a zombie book but rather a story about addiction that just so happens to have zombies in it. I can see this novel appealing to those who are interested in learning or reading about meth addiction. Also, if you are like me, FIEND may appeal to those zombie fans that are looking for something different, a new way of looking at things, a fresh pair of eyes to see a zombie apocalypse through. However, if you like zombie novels that reveal the who, what, where, and how-- how do you become a zombie, what caused it, where is the cure--you may be disappointed. Because none of these issues are the focal point of this story. The only thing that is figured out rather quickly is how to prolong NOT turning into a zombie...the rest I will leave for you to figure out. But I will give you a hint. If you've had the chance to see the movie version of World War Z, then you know it's not so much about finding the cure, but something that can buy them time. But these...revelations that give Chase in FIEND and Brad Pitt's character in World War Z time are equally as dangerous and life threatening. But hey, comparing FIEND and WWZ is a whole different can of worms better explored another day.
Mia @ themusescircle.blogspot.com
Indeed, it takes a little bit to realize that Fiend isn’t just a drug novel in which our characters are hallucinating the horrors as a result of their meth habits. But very quickly, it becomes obvious that Fiend is a marriage of books: it’s a bleak, unrelenting portrait of addiction and what it does to people and their relationships; it’s a twisted, broken love story between two irrevocably damaged human beings; and it’s a post-apocalyptic zombie story, full of zombies that emit mad chuckles instead of groans. And if you’re wondering exactly how Stenson ties all of these things together, it won’t take long to realize that Stenson is using the zombie apocalypse as a metaphor for the devastation of addiction, which turns you away from other human beings and into a self-destructive spiral in which all you care about is the next big score.
And make no mistake here: Fiend pulls no punches in its recounting of the methhead lifestyle. Stenson is a recovering addict himself, and every page of Fiend feels like the voice of experience is pushing through, depicting addiction with honesty, a certain black humor and self-reflection, and a refusal to pretty up any of the details. The result is a book with absolutely abhorrent characters, ones with whom it’s almost impossible to empathize, even as we recognize the poor choices that led them down this path. Again, it’s hard not to make comparisons to Trainspotting, which does so much of what Fiend does – depicts both the appeal and the bleak reality of addiction, all without judgment being passed except by the characters themselves…except that Stenson plunges these characters into a world where their drug habits might just be the only thing worth living for anymore, and where the pockmarked skin and rotting teeth of the addicts pale in comparison to the cackling dead outside in the dark.
In other words, Fiend is two books in one, and lets them play off of each other beautifully, letting the horrors be underlined by the selfishness (and self-destructiveness) of the characters, just as the realities of addiction are played out on operatic scale in the background as the world crumbles. And best of all, Fiend finds a grounding, investing us in our main character’s last grasp at a healthy relationship in the midst of all of this – and giving us one thing to actually hope for in the midst of all of the awfulness.
Let’s be blunt: Fiend is full of unsympathetic characters, lots of profanity, graphic violence, explicit drug use, and unblinking looks at how far people will go for drugs. It’s scary, violent, brutal, nasty, and incredibly bleak. It’s also darkly funny, incredibly thoughtful, reflective, unapologetic, and beautifully literate in a counter-culture sort of way. It’s a book that is undeniably not for everyone. But if you’re open to what it offers, it’s a fascinating read, one that tells an honest story about addiction by fictionalizing it, and one that finds a new window on a classic horror by turning it into something even scarier. I absolutely loved it; it’s not like anything else, and that’s undeniably a good thing.