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AUTHOR: John Ajvide Lindqvist
PUBLISHER: Thomas Dunne Books
PAGES: 384 pages
The dead are returning and they want their lives back.
The Words in The Bound Text Square
Sweden has been hit with a weird medical happening over the last two months. Due to excessive heat levels and energy spikes, the dead seem to have returned to life. Well, it’s not like all of the deceased Swedes have returned to life. I’d say a good estimate would put it around 10% of the deceased population has returned. Several citizens mark this resurrection with a degree of horror and hope. The recently widowed, orphaned and general grieving are hoping that this means their loved ones will return hope. Others fear what sort of horrors that the walking dead bring with them.
Handling the Dead is the second book from Lindqvist. He’s following up the smash success of Let the Right One In with such an amazing tale of compassion. Lindqvist is offering up the first fresh take on the zombie since George A. Romero starting shooting films in the wilds of Pennsylvania. The undead of this book aren’t ghouls, but they aren’t normal. These undead are shells of their former selves who are trying to return to their past lives. What makes this more of a tease is that so many grieving individuals are seeing these creatures and wanting their loved ones to come back.
The horror begins, as we find two grieving individuals that are desperate to be visited by a relative zombie. When the grandfather Mahler learns of the dead’s return, he gets the idea that his deceased grandson might be alive in his coffin. Fighting against reason, he breaks into the local graveyard and begins to unearth the eight year old child. The readers get to follow along, as his troubled mind tries to rationalize his actions until he finally breaks the coffin lid. Feeling inside against the exposed bone, he realizes that his grandson hasn’t returned as the same child. The sense of disgust and personal horror is what helps to drive the true terror of this work.
The Things I Learned
A scholar once said that the dead have no value other than what the living place on them. Whether we’re looking at Mahler, Flora or Elvy in Handling the Undead, one thing is clear in their stories. This isn’t traditional horror, but more of a classical drama using elements of the supernatural for dressing. The average gorehound doesn’t care for grief or loss unless it comes at the hand of a masked maniac. Lindqvist tries to challenge this by showing horror fans that nothing is truly horrific as the human experience. Humanity experiences terrible things everyday, but how they handle the events is what defines the person and their power.
The nature of the zombie in Handling the Undead matches the Romero shuffling corpse coupled with a leech. The few dead that have returned need the thoughts and attention of the living. The deceased can’t communicate directly with their loved ones, but they are this rotting presence that’s always there among the living. The Swedes of this novel are forced to recognize these gut-wrenching abominations, as they shuffle from place to place. The dead in this work aren’t metaphors, they’re not something greater than the common man. The zombies are walking reminders that everyone will die and you better hope that you don’t come back.
The Section for People That Don’t Read So Good
Even the dead can be boring.
The Last Word
Mahler’s story about his grandson is the easy draw of the book. What stands out for me is the recently widowed Elvy and her disappointment with the return of her husband. The man returns back to life and goes back to his home office. He can’t tell her he loves her, he can barely acknowledge her existence. Readers with family members that’ve died from Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases can relate. It’s a horrifying to see a family member become a husk that loses all sense of reality. You almost wish for their release from this mortal coil, as a means of bringing them some peace.
Many native Swedes voiced issues with the book’s middle section, as they felt it dragged down the story. I beg to differ, as the English translation allows more to learn about Elvy and her response to the return. The third act delves too quickly into the reason for the return and the government’s response. I hate to see the eventual film adaptation, as it’ll cause more third-act complaints than Batman Begins received. The ending is a little too neat and tidy for my tastes. I don’t know if something was lost in translation, but I feel as though the resolution robs the characters of what they needed to learn. Sometimes, dead is better.
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