Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Written by Bob Fingerman
Published by Tor Books
When you review things, be they books or movies or what have you, after a few years you get to the point that the review just writes itself in your head while you’re ingesting whatever it is you’re critiquing. A good reviewer doesn’t finalize that review until the entire thing has been finished, but even early on you can get a gut read on what’s happening and where you’re headed.
Sometimes, though, it’s not that easy. It’s not uncommon to need some discussion or thought after viewing or reading something to really wrap your head around it. I frequently find myself watching movies with my wife, then spending quite a while afterwards discussing them with her, talking out the thoughts in my head, trying to sort out exactly where I stand on it.
And then, there are books like Pariah.
I’m going to be honest with you, fiends…I have no idea what I think about Pariah as I sit down to write this.
It’s been over a week since I finished it, and I keep returning to it in my thoughts, only to find the same conflicted emotions I had as soon as I completed the final page. I’ve even tried breaking it down into basic questions.
Did I like it? Yes…and no.
Did I enjoy it? No…not exactly.
Was it good? Yes, yes, I’m certain it was good. It certainly wasn’t bad in any way.
I’ll try to explain by talking about the story.
Z-Day has happened. The zombie apocalypse is upon us, and we find ourselves a few months later in an apartment building in Manhattan. The few surviving tenants live together very uncomfortably, trapped in their building as thousands of the undead stagger the streets surrounding them. They’re safe inside…and also beginning to starve as food supplies have run out.
This is the framework of the story. It’s the end of the world, these people are trapped, and they’re slowly facing death while surrounded by zombies. That’s basically part one of the book, introducing all these characters and describing their lives, various tragedies that happen, some flashbacks to explain what has come before, and their slow walk towards imminent death.
And then, someone comes strolling down the street, untouched by the zombies. She is the ‘pariah’ of the title, and she’ll be the savior of some of our characters…and the death of others.
Fingerman is known, apparently, for his humor. I’m not familiar with his other work myself, but the book jacket has quotes from people like Trey Parker of South Park fame so we’re talking about a man who clearly knows his funny. I get the idea that Pariah is meant to be funny in places. It never struck me as funny. It could be that I never recovered from part one, which is one of the saddest, most desperate pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. It makes The Long Walk by Stephen King read like Tales of Beedle The Bard. I started to feel the hunger pains as these people (who are made very real and very believable by Fingerman) suffer in the worst ways as horror after horror is thrown at them and they attempt to cope. Relationships break down, lives are lost, and human spirit shows its best and worst sides. No one is a saint, but only a few could be called devils.
Once the girl shows up with her immunity, the story picks up and takes off…but I don’t think I ever recovered from the mourning brought on by that first third of the book. Her character is odd, and her interactions with the tenants never overcome the basic questions about her, which aren’t answered until late in the book. That didn’t help and was a source of frustration. The middle of the book definitely has a few moments where I was mentally shouting, “Oh just get ON with it and TELL them why they don’t attack you!” If there’s one solid beef with the book, that’d be it.
Fingerman doesn’t do much to lift the desperation of the situation, even with the salvation that the girl represents. Food and water, as well as some creature comforts, don’t do much to improve the lives of the tenants when you get right down to it. They continue to suffer, deteriorate, give in to their basest instincts. And yes, they do continue to die. These deaths often happen with no fanfare, nothing “on screen” to note the passings. One day a door is opened, and someone you’ve come to care about is dead. Simple as that.
At the end of the book there’s a point of conflict that comes to a head as some very bad decisions are made and everyone pays a terrible price. While the ending leaves us with a slight upswing of emotion, there is no added hope. No resolution. The zombies are there, the apocalypse continues, and things aren’t exactly that much brighter than when they began. (No, this is not a spoiler…that isn’t the story Fingerman is telling. This book is not about zombies or the zombie apocalypse; it’s about these people.) It isn’t as nihilistic as Brian Keene’s zombie works, but it’s not far off.
Pariah left me sad and a little let down. I wanted something I just wasn’t going to get here. Hope. This is the end of the world, and there is no hope. In that, though, maybe there’s one last little glimmer of the best in mankind in a barricaded apartment building in Manhattan. Is that enough? It has to be because that’s all that’s left.
I can only recommend Pariah if you’re prepared for what it is: a funeral for mankind, set amongst the living dead. It’s dark, sad, and as final as the grave itself. Whatever humor Fingerman apparently normally shows is muted, at best. This is not a funny book. Terrible things happen to people you have reason to like, without reason and without recourse. It’s harsh, brutal, and dark.
All that said, yes, I guess it is a very, very good book. It’s just terribly unpleasant and heartbreaking in places. Be warned, be educated, but if you’re up for it, there’s definitely something special here.
4 out of 5
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