I sense this is going to be a rambling review. Sometimes, I write concise reviews, which tell you what you want to know, i.e. what I think about a particular book. Sometimes, I ramble. Somewhere else on this blog, I wrote a thousand words about Beowulf at the beginning of a review of a book with very little to do with Beowulf at all. People who are in a hurry to find out about Michele W. Miller’s cracking and intelligent The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery should probably skip the first few paragraphs or read the Amazon version, which will be much more to the point.
Before I start rambling too much, I will have to come clean about two things.
Firstly, I am not a great fan of zombies. I have longstanding issues with them.
Werewolves, I can accept, especially conflicted ones struggling to reconcile werewolfhood with an innate sense of decency. I have no problem with vampires, especially if they are portrayed in films by someone very charismatic (Gary Oldman for instance). On the other hand, one-hundred-year old teenage vampires with inexplicably large amounts of money appeal to me almost as little as zombies.
Zombies are a hard sell with me. Possibly this is due to the fact that they are never suave or attractive or engagingly conflicted. They tend to be lolling, slobbering, assemblages of bits of rotting body parts, frightening mostly for their ability to turn other people into similarly unattractive beings.
The second issue is quite controversial. In spite of the powerful benefits it has incurred on many people close to me, I have long nurtured a very slight suspicion of the recovery movement. I am not quite sure how to explain this suspicion, and I would be the first to admit that, given my own family history, my feelings on the subject could be described as counterintuitive. But it’s there. I think my suspicions may stem from an AA member I knew twenty years ago, who was so fervent in his efforts to make me join Al Alon that he sometimes made it sound like a religious cult.
Although I am not for a moment comparing AA to a religious cult, I will digress here to explain why such things make me suspicious. I have always been a magnet for religious cults. I think I must emit that air of vulnerability that makes people think I have a strong need to sit in community halls with a lot of people wearing cardigans, drinking tea and talking about Jesus. I don’t, by the way.
Once, when I spent a summer living in London, I was pursued for weeks by a woman named Vera, who wanted me to join her religious cult. Vera went to the lengths of finding out my phone number and calling on a daily basis. The friends I shared a flat with at the time eventually told her I had gone back to Ireland, but she didn’t believe them. “What have you done with Safie?” she kept demanding.
Another time, I was cycling up to a busy junction in Dublin’s dockland area, when a woman pulled up on a bicycle beside me and asked if I would like to go to a religious meeting. “It’s really nice, she said, “We just drink tea and talk about Jesus.” She was wearing a cardigan, if I recall. I politely declined and cycled away. Another time, I gave a lift to a hitchhiker in Offaly, who immediately produced a pamphlet and asked me to join the religious cult she was setting up, which was to be an Irish offshoot of some big American midwestern cult, one of those ones that steals all your money and locks you in a compound.
As I said, it must be an unintended air of vulnerability. I have a friend who has had similar experiences, but in her case, it’s with communists. I used to say to her that I would swap my religious cults for her communists any day, but the communists were never interested in me.
For anyone who neglected to skip all the above, I’ll get back to Michele W. Miller’s The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery, which is so well-written that it allowed me to overcome my zombie issues.
The zombies portrayed in The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery are unusual in that they are believable. They are not likable, of course, and they are no less slobbery, rotting and unattractive than ever. But they are believable. The zombie apocalypse at the centre of this story (I have only recently realized that zombie apocalypses have their own literary subgenre) occurs quickly and neatly, wasting little time on exposition, which would be unnecessary anyway (Who needs exposition? It’s a zombie apocalypse. Get used to it!). This allows the plot to move rapidly to where it wants to be, following a small ragtag bunch of survivors as they attempt to make it through the hazardous wasteland that is the apocalypse’s aftermath.
It is well-written, fast-paced, and entertaining, but above all, it stands out because of the rooted cause at its centre. Beneath the splattered zombie brains, Michele W. Miller manages to produce a thoughtful examination of the recovery movement, all the more appealing because although she is clearly enthusiastic about its benefits and the vital role it has played in many people’s survival, she is also prepared to take on any potentially less salubrious aspects. The cultish AA compound in which the group find themselves, with its slight fascist undertones, is chilling in a way that contrasts starkly with the manic danger of the zombies outside. It shows the dangers that can occur with any movement if it becomes too powerful.
Using horror to examine addiction, and other similar issues, has been done before. Stephen King comes to mind. But it is rarely done well. Michele W. Miller achieves her objective with skillful writing and engaging plot development. She is an author to watch out for, who will undoubtedly go from strength to strength.
The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery, by Michele W. Miller was a 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist. It is available from Amazon at this address: http://www.amazon.com/The-Thirteenth-Step-Zombie-Recovery-ebook/dp/B00GK67COU. More information is available from Michele Miller’s website http://www.michelewmiller.com