Books

'Dead Love' Features Some Pretty Unscary Zombies and Japanese Gangsters

International intrigue, sex, ghouls, a chapter in manga, zombies, the Yakuza, even a couple of ninjas -- and it still doesn't work.


Dead Love: A Novel About Japan...and Zombies

Publisher: Stone Bridge Press
Price: $26.95
Author: Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-09
Amazon

We are in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. An avalanche of novels, comics and films sometimes makes it seem that we spend most of our time contemplating zombies (when we are not thinking about vampires). AMC’s The Walking Dead, premiering Halloween night, and the film version of Max Brook’s runaway hit World War Z, likely coming in 2012, promises that masses of revenants will continue to be a cultural obsession.

Linda Wantanabe McFerrin’s new novel is yet more proof that the zombie is here to stay. In fact, she has reached backed before the zombie lore that George Romero created in Night of the Living Dead to the older version of the zombie, the creature created by humans in the context of Haitian vodun (“voodoo”) as a slave to a living master. McFerrin tells this tale in the Japanese context, with an often perfect evocation of Tokyo and Tokyo scenes. Added to the narrative mix are the Yakuza, a trip to Amsterdam, a peculiar love story and a shape-shifting ghoul. One chapter is beautifully drawn manga by Botan Yamada, a nice extra only available in the novel’s hard cover edition.

McFerrin centers her story on Erin, a beautiful young dancer and the barely acknowledged illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man with ties to the Japanese underworld. For reasons that only become clear later in the novel, Erin’s father and the yakuza want her dead and enlist a deadly, and dead sexy, yakuza soldier to be both her “bodyguard” and her assassin. Ryu become Erin’s lover along the way. Meanwhile, a ghoul who feeds on human flesh and can shape-shift into any form he eats, falls hard for Erin and transforms her into a zombie, a “live dead girl” that will be his love slave.

This eclectic mix of elements probably seems a bit irresistible. However, it's likely that, a chapter or two in, you will find yourself able to resist even the most creative plot points. Most of the characters motivations are murky at best and there are sudden twists in the tale that seem to serve little purpose other than to provide a change of scene and scenery (such as a sudden trip to Amsterdam).

Worst of all for a book about zombies, McFerrin’s work is really only occasionally disturbing and never truly frightening. Moments of gross-out appear but these, strangely, have less to do with the supernatural than the sometimes demeaning descriptions of people and places. The character of Erin is never as engaging as the reader would like her to be and seems as flat before her zombification as after. Readers will find themselves looking forward to the moment she becomes “the live dead girl” and the story really gets moving. But even after her supernatural transformation Erin feels like exactly the same uninteresting character with some memory loss.

The general flatness of the characters seems of a piece with the sometimes clinical narrative style. Certain scenes are perfectly rendered, from Erin’s first sexual encounter with Ryu to her fateful visit to the Fugu shop. But we never get lost in this world because we never forget the author’s voice, piling detail upon detail. These are narrative worlds described rather than created. This is a major failing in a book that is both packed with the supernatural and what is supposed to feel like international intrigue.

Tokyo and Amsterdam are the most finely wrought locations but the author really lost me with her description of Haiti. The much-abused island is mainly presented as a place of smells and discomfort, while Amsterdam and Tokyo, in even their seedier aspects, are given a deeply evocative treatment. This coincides, unfortunately, with the novel’s rather simplistic portrayal of vodun, a religious system already much derided in American popular culture as a magic system of “voodoo dolls” (actually part of the western magical tradition that has been clamped on to vodun) and zombies.

A seemingly small, but almost constantly annoying, aspect of the novel is its use of footnotes throughout. Don’t get me wrong, as a pretty serious David Foster Wallace fan I am well aware of how this use of an academic scaffolding in fiction can add layer of irony and complexity to a story, suggesting a world behind and beyond the fiction piece while creating a strange kind of meta-narrative within it. But that’s not what McFerrin does here. These are footnotes in a dreadfully literal sense, giving the reader the straight, denotative meaning of unfamiliar terms. Occasionally, this does explain a word or concept that may be unfamiliar but it also prevents our full capitulation to the narrative, reminding of the artifice. At it’s worst, as when the author defines “ninja” for her readers, it seems patronizing and makes this feel like a piece of adolescent literature, which clearly it is not.

Looking at Dead Love as a whole, much of the book’s problems at first seem like failures of craftsmanship. I’m afraid the deeper issue is a failure of imagination. The intermixture of elements, from ninjas to voodoo, feels like a writer attempting to pack everything that could possibly be interesting to the reader into the novel. I was expecting vampires, pirates and perhaps a killer robot to show up at any moment. As filmmakers like Romero or comic writers like Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) have shown, the unbelievable nature of the zombie opens up the possibility of telling stark tales that are more about human experience than the supernatural. Your time would be better spent revisiting their work than on Dead Love.

4

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image