Raising Stony Mayhall
While zombie novels have become one of the “in” things recently, we’re also starting to see books that are written from the point of view of the zombies themselves. This is a new breed of novel in more ways that the obvious, as “traditional” zombies don’t think and therefore wouldn’t exactly be good narrators. Daryl Gregory’s Raising Stony Mayhall joins the ranks of books that feature zombies who have brains instead of just eating them.
(Description nicked from the back of the book.)
“In 1968, after the first zombie outbreak, Wanda Mayhall and her three young daughters discover the body of a teenage mother during a snowstorm. Wrapped in the woman’s arms is a baby, stone-cold, not breathing, and without a pulse. But then his eyes open and look up at Wanda–and he begins to move.
The family hides the child–whom they name Stony–rather than turn him over to authorities that would destroy him. Against all scientific reason, the undead boy begins to grow. For years his adoptive mother and sisters manage to keep his existence a secret–until one terrifying night when Stony is forced to run and he learns that he is not the only living dead boy left in the world.”
I read something online that Gregory wrote about this novel, basically stating that it went in a completely different direction than he intended, but I can’t (although I think it was on Suvudu). But if that really is the case, then it sums up what I think made this novel miss the mark. My initial impressions, as I started this book, were that it would be about how zombies could function. Of course, it would be from the point of view of a zombie. I kind of thought that it might be the flip side of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, and that caught my interest.
However, what I got was what amounts to a philosophical treatise on zombies, positing why they might function and why they might not rot and other such questions. There’s no real attempt to explain what’s going on—especially what’s going on with Stony. He’s the only zombie known to have been born as the undead and to have grown up as the undead. There are some tantalizing hints given as to these “whys”, specifically the fact that he always seemed to be the same height and weight and clothes size as his best friend. But nothing is ever resolved on these matters. I would have liked this novel much more if some resolution had been brought to these questions.
Instead, readers get a lot of talk about how zombies can use artificial limbs that are made out of almost anything. One minor character has so many wooden prosthetics that he looks like a marionette, but there’s no attempt to explain how a wooden limb can function as a normal limb. I found it maddening.
I have no quibbles with the rest of the story. Gregory sets up a believable world post-zombie invasion, in which a paranoid government experiments on captured zombies and the populace lives in fear of another outbreak. The society that the zombies build for themselves is likewise well-realized, with safe-houses and consequences for those who break the strict rules that prevent zombies from being discovered. The action is fast-paced and relentless once it gets started.
As for Stony himself, I found that I neither liked nor disliked him. I personally didn’t feel that he had much personality, but I suppose that makes sense. Most of the zombies seem to either retain their personalities from life or make up one that’s totally opposite to their former one. Stony was born a zombie, and so therefore he has no personality to either remember or reject. His name matches his character quite well, as he often seems to be to be pretty “stony” in regards to his emotions.
I guess that I can grant that this is a deliberate choice by the author, but it didn’t work for me. However, I can see how it would work for other readers, because of the interesting questions that it raises. Gregory’s novels ask some pretty deep questions to which readers are challenged to find their own answers. Perhaps in this case, I simply didn’t find his questions as intriguing as in his past novels, thus accounting for my mixed reactions. Still, this book offers an interesting counterpoint to the deluge of zombie stories cropping up, and for that reason, it’s worth a look.
Also by this author: Pandemonium
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on July 11. 2011.