Husk by Corey Redekop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Zombies are hip. They're in now, the way vampires were in 15 minutes ago. What is it about the undead that appeals to us? Gamers know how prominently zombies figure in today's culture. As the last time I played a video game it was on an Atari console, I was utterly oblivious. It was serendipitous that the charms of a video game called Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 were revealed to me by a work colleague's 14 year old son who is an aficionado. In BO2 the player finds him/herself in a post-apocalyptic world populated by killer zombies wanting to feast on his flesh. Fortunately, each player is armed to the teeth with every imaginable weapon and a potentially endless supply of ammunition. The result is a never ending orgy of gory carnage. My young friend's revelation completely altered my view of the novel Husk by Corey Redekop. I already felt that Husk was one of the most enjoyable novels I'd read in a while. Using exuberant prose, a satirical viewpoint and darkly sly humour, Redekop makes a devastating statement on modern consumer society along the lines of the classic B-movie "Dawn of the Dead" (my era) in which zombies invade a shopping mall. I get the point that consumer/entertainment culture subsumes and mesmerizes us into a self-indulgent stupor, driving an innately self-destructive instinct that morphs us into insensate, ravenous sub/superhumans. But I had no idea that there was something else going on in Husk, an altogether more subversive ambition. By flipping the perspective around and taking the zombie's point of view, making him a thinking, feeling, sympathetic being, and doing it in a writing style that is vibrant and lively, Redekop is ironically transforming the sense-deadening, ultra-violent culture of the screen that obsesses millions upon millions of mostly young men into something that approaches art. Sheldon, or 'Shel' as he likes to be called (ha ha) is a gay zombie with a heart. We know this from the first pages when he awakens mid-autopsy, his organs removed from the cavern of his body, and after ripping the arms off the attendant and getting ready to flee, hesitates to retrieve his blood-pump from the floor; he may not physically need it, but he won't leave it behind. Husk is a also scathing satire of the celebrity industry that feeds the pop-culture meat-grinder; shlock-producing directors and manipulative agents, 'reality' tv that isn't real, and talk shows that are dysfunctional freak-shows. This, as it turns out, works to the advantage of a zombie actor trying to resuscitate a moribund career. Redekop is a smart, prodigiously talented prose stylist. He takes gleeky (geeky + glee) delight in describing biological matters, for instance, exactly how the zombie who has no functioning organs, whose veins are filled with formaldehyde and whose muscles should be useless atrophied slabs, manages to move, speak, eat and defecate. And that's another of the many pleasures in reading this novel; Reading about someone whose basic bodily functions provide a challenge reminds us that we are feeling, breathing, flesh and blood beings who can rejoice in the miracle of our bodily capacities. I know this doesn't sound like much of an insight, but part of Redekop's literary achievement is to show how we've lost touch with our essential physical selves in a world in which so much of our time is spent in our own headspace, in front of a screen, in the realm of virtual reality, or subsumed in glossy celebrity image-based media. Maybe pop-culture is ultra violent and sexually charged precisely because we so desperately crave genuine physical experience, the ultimate irony. My one gripe with the novel is the ending. While Redekop brilliantly walks the fine line between high art/low culture for most of the novel, in the concluding sections he succumbs to self-indulgence with a climax that matches Black Ops 2 for absurd over-the-top grotesqueness. The core of the story, Sheldon and the fascinating questions he raises about human frailty and the nature of consciousness, gets lost in a torrent of horrorshow violence mimicking a CGI-generated movie.
One last note. My Amazon-ordered copy arrived with inconsistent print quality, some pages were faded. Fortunately, the publisher offers a digital copy free with proof of purchase of a print copy. For a guy like me whose eyes aren't what they used to be and who reads by a dubious bedside light, the ability to enlarge font is a godsend.
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