Book review: Zombie, Illinois | Bleader

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book review: Zombie, Illinois

Posted By on 10.21.12 at 10:00 AM

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In late September, I got the following e-mail:

Dear Chicago Reader,

I'm a Logan Square based writer, and my new book Zombie, Illinois is about to come out on October 1 from Skyhorse Publishing. It's a novel about a zombie attack on the city of Chicago, but it's also a study of different city neighborhoods, and a satire of local politicians. (Press release and cover are attached.)

I'll be doing a reading from it on October 14 at 4pm at City Lit Books (2523 N. Kedzie).

Please let me know if I can have a copy sent for review, or if me or my publicist can answer any questions.

Scott Kenemore

And I'd thought the whole zombie craze was kind of a dead deal by now. But not for Scott Kenemore. (Check out his zombie blog.) Actually, Zombie, Illinois is a follow-up to his previous novel, Zombie, Ohio. He's also written The Zen of Zombie, Z.E.O., The Art of Zombie Warfare, and The Code of the Zombie Pirate.

I have no interest in Ohio zombies. I wouldn't have read that one. Illinois zombies, on the other hand . . . that piqued my interest a bit. And I like to check out books by local writers. And I had an eight-hour flight coming up soon. If nothing else, maybe the book would be a colossal bore and reading it would help me sleep on the plane. I honestly didn't have high expectations that it would be any good.

Boy, was I wrong about that. It kept me awake. Not because it's particularly scary, but because I couldn't stop reading it.

This part of the press release had really grabbed me:

"When the mayor of Chicago is eaten by zombies on live television . . . "

(I am dying to say now just whose reanimated corpse does the feasting on mayoral flesh, but it's too juicy a detail to give away. But you've heard of the guy.)

Zombie, Illinois is told in the alternating voices of its three main characters: Ben Bennington, a political reporter for Brain's Chicago Business; Pastor Leopold Mack of the Church of Heaven's God in Christ Lord Jesus on the south side; and Maria Ramirez, a young, sexy, fearless drummer for the all-girl band Strawberry Brite Vagina Dentata. (I say Maria is fearless because she's not afraid to admit that she hates Wilco.)

The lives of these three disparate characters intersect in perfectly believable ways as the rumors of the undead rising (first glimpsed via YouTube videos, but is it a hoax? some creepy advertising gambit?) surface but then turn out to be true. As a political power vacuum emerges after the mayor is munched on and unethical aldermen scheme to fill it, they band together to not only save their own lives but possibly the future of the city itself.

(And while I don't think Ben Bennington is based on Reader political reporter Ben Joravsky, the thought did cross my mind. Joravsky would be a top-notch zombie killer.)

Bennington, a Logan Square resident, first unknowingly encounters a zombie in Palmer Square Park in a snowstorm:

"Standing in front of my building is a young woman in a thin yellow dress. She has pleasing features and pale skin with a few freckles. She could be one of my neighbors from the building next door, but I can't place her face. Though underdressed for the weather, she doesn't shiver. Her skin is unmarked by goosebumps or windburn.

"She also has what appears to be a baby's half-eaten arm dangling from her mouth."

It's all good like that.

And the book is full of gruesome/lovely passages like this (as narrated by Bennington):

"Maria puts two bullets into the zombie's skull. It falls motionless to the snow. Wary of repeating the ordeal with the overweight, diapered woman, I quickly roll away to avoid contact. It's the right move. The dead woman's head comes to rest in the place where my body had been moments ago. Her green eyes stare up into the darkness. I watch a single snowflake land on her pupil. It does not melt; her eyes are very cold."

Kenemore is a gifted writer (at least in the zombie realm). His three main characters have unique voices, and he's done his research on aldermanic politics, racial segregation in the city, the police torture scandal. (Scott, you read the Reader, don't you?) Even Roland Burris gets mocked (as someone called Mystian Morph). As Pastor Mack notes at one point, a sense of community is vital in fighting off zombies, and they have that on the south side, when they've had to deal with gangbangers and lack of city police support. The zombies are just unthinking flesh-eating corpses. It's the living evil they've had to deal with all this time.

As Pastor Mack says late in the book: "If anything is a ground-clearing, life-altering experience, it's a zombie outbreak." You get an "Amen" there, pastor.

I'm just sorry I missed Kenemore's reading at City Lit while I was on that plane.

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