I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Last Weekend: A Novel of Zombies, Booze, and Power Tools by Nick Mamatas
Published by Talos on January 5 2016
Genres: Adult, Horror
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The nitty-gritty: More literary ramble than horror, Mamatas’ bleak look at a changed world is beautifully written with sharp spikes of sudden violence.
I signed up for drilling because I couldn’t get down to Mexico. I needed to experience life, to find something to write about. I needed pocket money. My credit score was immaterial, my landlord dead, and as electricity only worked fourteen hours a day PG&E just let the grid run and stopped billing. But the agora bloomed on Market Street once again, and most anything could be had for the right combination of trade goods, favors, scrip, and foreign currencies.
The title and cover of the The Last Weekend: A Novel of Zombies, Booze, and Power Tools may lead you to believe this is a humorous horror novel—and it does have quite a bit of wry humor throughout—but I was surprised at how literary Mamatas’ latest is. Yes, there are zombies and killings and blood flying around, but believe it or not, the horror takes a backseat to the real story, which is the tale of main character Billy Kostopolos, a displaced wannabe writer from the Midwest who has ended up in post-apocalyptic San Francisco, and how he comes to terms with the changing world and his place in it. Much of the story is Billy’s ramblings about his struggling life as a writer, his descent into booze and sex, and his overall dissatisfaction with life. But the horrific moments, when they come, are shocking, and I think that’s what I enjoyed about this story. Mamatas has imagined a world where the dead no longer stay dead, but the focus of the story isn’t on these zombies, but rather the living humans who are trying to eke out a life in this “new” reality.
Billy’s story wanders in non-linear fashion as he explains how he ended up in the Bay Area in California and took a job as a “driller,” someone who puts to rest the reanimates by drilling holes through their foreheads. Life in America has turned into a bleak landscape of looted stores and regular brown-outs, where the dead shamble aimlessly through the streets. There are all sorts of theories about why this is happening, but no one really knows for sure. Is it a plague? Or some scientific experiment gone wrong? Billy meets a girl named Alexa who is determined to discover the truth, and she enlists Billy to break into City Hall where she believes that secret is hidden.
And that is pretty much the entire plot of this novel, so for readers looking for down-and-dirty zombie action, with a strong plot and lots of tension, you’ll most likely be disappointed with this book. What Mamatas does do, though, and what endeared me to this story, is that his characters treat the horrific parts in such an offhand manner, that the (seriously) ridiculous idea of drilling a hole in a dead person’s forehead begins to seem normal, almost blasé. In fact, none of the characters seem very concerned about the reanimates, as if they were nothing more than stray dogs wandering the streets.
To keep the story moving, Billy narrates the past ten years or so of his life story, from his Midwestern upbringing with his Greek parents, to his time in Boston, where he doesn’t exactly get into college, but ends up taking writing classes all the same, until he finally lands in California after earning enough money for a plane ticket by ghost-writing a short story for a friend. This jumping around was somewhat haphazard and jarring at first, but once I got into the rhythm of what the author was doing, I just went with the flow. Billy’s narrative style is engaging and hard to resist, and even though I didn’t really like Billy very much, I sure did love Mamatas’ writing!
And with that, let’s talk about the characters, Billy in particular. In a world where society is falling apart, there are an amazing amount of bars and restaurants still open and doing a brisk business, and Billy’s been to every one of them. Billy is the ultimate slacker: he drinks like a fish, sleeps with as many women as will let him, all while convincing himself that his one shot at being a writer has come and gone (he once sold a short story to an underground zine for fifty dollars). Nevertheless, he carries a pad of paper with him in case the muse decides to strike. He’s got a fairly low opinion of himself, which makes him a pathetic sort of guy. But he does take pride in his job as a driller, as morbid as that sounds, so I guess you have to give him credit for that.
Mamatas lulls his readers into dropping their guard, and that’s when you’ll need to expect sudden bursts of gruesomeness. The undead aren’t the sort to attack the living and try to eat them, it’s the living that you need to watch out for. Armed with his trusty drill, Billy is responsible for much of the violence, although he’s just doing his job, folks! Several failed attempts at killing the zombies turn wickedly horrific, but the real horror, as I mentioned before, is how normal it all seems to these characters. Indeed the world has changed.
I guess the bottom line is this: if you’re willing to try a different sort of zombie story, you need to take a chance on this book. Mamatas has another new book coming out later this year (I Am Providence), and despite my middling rating, I am really looking forward to reading more of this very talented author.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.