(Author’s Note: Katie Cord, friend of this blog, does not know I am writing this review. Don’t tell her until the end, would you? Thanks.)
So there are a couple-or-three things I need to get out of the way before I get to actually reviewing the book He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies by Katie Cord.
First thing is: I am not typing that title out over and over again. We’ll be calling it Altar/Zombies from here on out.
Second: this book is currently out of print. Katie Cord self-published it a few years back, before starting Evil Girlfriend Media. The copy I bought from her in September 2013 was one of the few remaining in her possession. If, after reading this review, you wish to join the growing chorus of those begging her to republish Altar/Zombies, please feel free to send a message on her site. You can still get copies on Amazon, but be prepared to pay a bunch.
Third: this book is a little rough. I was warned before I read it that it was self-edited, and Katie makes no claims at all to being an editor. Definitely could use a little more polish before the repub. . .hopefully Katie can find an editor that works cheap (hint, hint).
Okay. All that said, let’s get on to the review!
He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies is brilliant.
I’m not even a zombie fan, and I loved the hell out of this book. Reading this book, I started to understand that good zombies stories, really good zombie stories, are about the survivors, not the zombies. Katie clearly already knew that, and painted ten pictures of normal, flawed (some deeply so) human beings struggling with the sudden reality of dead people not staying dead. It’s about the discovery of a new world through abrupt change (more on that later). Whereas The Walking Dead is mostly about Rick Grimes trying to do right by his troupe of survivors and bring some order to the new lawless world, these stories are about people who are just people – not exemplars of a higher ideal, not moral compasses for other survivors, not even shining examples of the heroism everyone should aspire to – just real, average people shoved into extraordinary circumstances. Those are the stories Katie is telling here, and they are simply brilliant. Brilliantly written, very well characterized, deeply flawed, people – those people always make for more interesting stories than archetypes and pure heroes, and Katie does a fantastic job with them here.
Enough raving – though I could go on for quite some time – let’s get to the stories. As with WSB, I went through and took notes on each story.
1. Puberty – This is the second time I’ve read a version this story. An elongated version was written for the writing group that Katie and I used to be part of; that was the first version I read. Gotta say it – sorry, Katie – I like this version much, much better. Shorter and more to the point, this version, just as it is, could and should be the first chapter of a novel-length story. It’s a great coming-of-age story, the feeling of transformation is very well portrayed, and the story is just so, so good this way! It’s such a sudden, abrupt transition from day-to-day boring life into this strange new world – the suddenness makes it so good and really pulled me along with the heroine into her new, unwanted life. So much better this way!
2. Daddy’s Girl – Another story that could be part of a larger one, “Daddy’s Girl” is an interesting look at life inside a military family with an overbearing patriarch. He’s mostly like Bill Cosby, but that he records all the family’s conversations is a disturbing detail – it’s like if Cliff Huxtable worked for the NSA. But it’s not about him, it’s about his daughter, and how she uses the lessons he taught her, from a prom gone awry to the wonderful twist at the end.
3. The Language of Survival – If you ever want to read a story that will dissuade you from being a professional pedicurist, this is it. Oh my God, other people’s feet. Ick. That part of the story is pretty grody, but enjoyably so! There are a lot of moving parts in this story, from Amy’s relationship with her vapid sister April and domineering Auntie Xian to the pale creepy guy that’s there for a surprise meeting, and then the zombie problems start – all of these elements are expertly juggled in the story, which is why I love it! And it manages to be funny in the middle of all that, too! This story continues the theme from the other stories of a new world being discovered, but Amy is the one who uses the opportunity to break free of her old life and be someone new – a very satisfying ending to a very good story.
4. He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies – Well, the title kinda gave the plot of that one away, didn’t it? But it’s still well worth reading! Especially for the protagonist Maddie, who is, point-blank, a terrible, terrible person! “Bridezilla” is one of the many words that could be used to describe her, and one of the few I can say on this page. She’s a selfish, spoiled, self-absorbed, ruthless, unholy terror of a woman – and that, as I began to realize with dawning horror, makes her extremely well-suited to survive a zombie apocalypse. In the movies, that type of person never makes it to the end, but in reality, they would not only survive but possibly prosper, because they’d do whatever it takes to insure their own survival. A funny, but brutal lesson to learn. Well taught, though!
5. Marriage – This was my least-favourite in the book, actually. I felt the marriage problems were smoothed over too quickly, and, if the story had continued, would only return in greater strength later. But at least I cared enough about the characters to think that much about them, as those who know me know that I don’t often do with real people. It’s still a well-written look at an astereotypical marriage, with a breadwinner wife and lay-about husband, but ugh. That guy.
6. The House and Kid – While the last story looked at an un-traditional marriage, this story looks at a painfully traditional marriage, and works all the better for being a counterpoint to the previous story. Looking back, I realized that this is the first story in the collection of a smooth, orderly life, falling suddenly into chaos; a point wonderfully illustrated by the zombie PTA that shows up – and I am not kidding about that. At its heart, this is a story about all the little things we fuss over every day, and the knowledge, brought by horror, of what it is that really matters.
7. The Pet – In my notes, I called “The Pet” a “quietly, and therefore gloriously, disturbing story”. Like the title story, the female protagonist in this one is not a good person; Mariah Braxton (I just got that name, haha) is also selfish and self-centered. The difference is that Mariah rationalizes away her guilt over the terrible things she does, unlike Maddie, who just never felt guilt. So there’s a little more hope for Mariah. In the end, though, Mariah reveals herself to only have wanted the same things we all want, which makes her a little less horrifying than Maddie was, but still every bit as ruthless. Something else I liked about this story: it’s told from Mariah’s perspective, and Katie does a great job of making the reader sympathize with a terrible person. Maybe you won’t want to, but you will, and you’ll like it in the end.
8. Your Cheatin’ Heart – This story takes place in Mississippi, which reminds me: What are you trying to say here about my home state, Katie? I don’t want to give too much of this story away, but it’s my favourite of the collection and it shows that Katie has a completely-correct-yet-completely-depressing grasp of human nature. This is EXACTLY what would happen in a zombie Apocalypse, if enough of humanity survived. It’s hilarious and it explores an avenue of depressingly-realistic human reaction to the zombies that I’d never seen done before. The good news here is that this story is reprinted in the recent collection Roms, Bombs, & Zoms, published by Evil Girlfriend Media. This story alone is worth the price of that book!
9. The Plan – “The Plan” is more a traditional ghost story than it is a zombie story, but still a good one that earns its place in this collection. The failed “raise the dead” ritual was a nice, humorous touch. This is the most character-driven story; it does read a little dry early on but picks up quickly enough to prevent you from losing interest. It also maintains the theme of the risen dead making a new world, a new life, possible, and does so in a way that’s perhaps more traditional than the other stories in this book, but isn’t out of place with its motifs. It’s about where you came from, where you’re going, and what the people that didn’t get there have to say about it.
10. The Cure – Up front: this story is heartbreaking. It’s so sad. It’s gonna grab your heartstrings from the beginning and not let go. But it’s so well-crafted and the characters so well-developed that you have to read it. Olivia Jayce makes a compelling protagonist, and her love Dani is a very tragic figure in the story, and her struggles with her illness gave me a new respect for those who care for the disabled. Olivia makes a deal with
Umbrella Corp a shady pharmaceutical company to save her love, and the results. . .well, just read it. It’s a very sad, very evocative story. I know that may scare some of you away, but I like it when a writer makes me care enough to feel what they want me to feel. I like emotionally evocative writing, and this is a shining example of that particular bit of word-crafting. Also, it wouldn’t be out of place as backstory in a Resident Evil game; in fact, it reminds me of the very sad back-story shown in the credits of Resident Evil 4, about how the poor villagers just wanted medical treatment and were instead infected with. . .okay, I’m digressing. Just read the damn story (and play Resident Evil 4; it was the last one before Capcom thought co-op or AI players were a good idea).
In fact, read all of the stories. They’re all wonderful in their ways, all working along the same themes but exploring those themes in very different ways. The variety is great, the characterization is spot-on, the emotional involvement with these characters is very high, and you may stumble over a spot here or there that needs editing but it’s not enough to distract from the enjoyment of these ten brilliant tales.
Get this book if you can, and if you can’t, ask Katie to re-publish it here!
VS – 12.23.13