20 October 2011

Post 439: Brains

Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker. ISBN: 9780062000309 (eBook).

Maybe I would have liked Jack Barnes the zombie a bit better if Jack Barnes the human wasn't such a reprehensible human being. It is truly difficult to root for a bloodthirsty monster when said monster also has entitlement issues, illusions of grandeur, the morals of a honey badger, and an ego and inverse depth of the Grand Canyon.  In other words, he is a tenured professor who hasn't had his ideas challenged in a very, very, very long time. Oh, and he doesn't like women all that much. I mean, not as people.

The problem with Jack Barnes wanting "rights" for zombies is mostly in the phrasing. I can't really argue with denying rights to a sentient creature, even if said creature happens to crave my flesh. Barnes happens to be one of a handful of sentient creatures out of a horde of the mindless varietal we're more accustomed to; he is a privileged zombie. We'll call him zombileged. Or not. That's still a crappy portmanteau, disappointing, I love a good portmanteau. And that's just the problem. People who have lived a life of privilege sometimes feel they are, ahem, entitled to "rights" because they don't understand the difference between a privilege and a right. Technically, Barnes does not have a right to eat human brains because he does not require them for his survival. He should, as much as I hate to say it, have the right to live because he is a sentient being, and so long as he is able to live in a way that honors other sentient being's desire to live, there is no reason to discontinue his existence.

Unfortunately, Barnes, for all of his supposed intellectual power, does not understand this. Instead, he attempts to contact survivor communities to set up a "mutually" beneficial arrangement through which humans could potentially earn the "honor" of becoming a zombie; meanwhile the human community will provide the zombies with choice undesirables. You know, like criminals, the insane, the old, and the handicapped... because experimenting chewing on those people and leaving the rest of the "normal" and "healthy" population alone is better than having a society where everyone is valued an unhealthy population. The fact that Barnes feels that offering the humans a chance to become a zombie is a good trade (instead of maybe offering to hunt down and kill the mindless zombies so the humans can rebuild), shows another sign of privilege and entitlement.

Jack Barnes cannot fathom that maybe humans would rather die than become zombies, because he is a zombie and he is the best thing on this god damned planet. That Barnes does not have the balls to die as a human being does not even occur to him because he truly believes the world would be a darker place without his "contributions." This is a case of effectively blinding oneself with the gleam of gold leaf on shit. All Jack can see is the gold, and others might be fooled, but the rest of us can smell the shit and we don't want it. So while Barnes goes around using up resources (brains) he doesn't really need, he is forcing others to suffer so that he can continue existing in his new and "improved" state.

And this is where Becker went wrong. Had Barnes come to the conclusion that being a zombie really kind of sucked, or at least been as good as being a human, I might have hopped on board. But Barnes thinking he was better than everyone else throughout the entire novel was beyond aggravating, especially after he brushed off his wife's anger over "an affair of no consequence with a graduate student, a dim meaty woman with breasts the size of a newborn's head, both of which, breast and metaphorical infant, I'd gladly eat now." (page 15). The same wife who we later discover had several miscarriages (speaking of metaphorical infants) likely cause by her anorexia, which Barnes sickeningly finds attractive in a woman. In his own words, "I adored anorexics. With their low self-esteem, desire to please, and rigorous self-disciple, what's not to like?" (page 112). Ugh. Just ugh.

A Monster Librarian bit into this and decided it didn't taste so great. Goodreader Mae also loathed the narrator, which seems to be the consensus of people who hated this book. I actually wish it had been written from nurse Joan's point of view.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.


  1. Are we supposed to hate him? Does the tone of the novel or eventual outcome of events indicate that the author knows the main character is abhorrent? It sounds like not. I understand your frustration with this, I probably would have stopped reading after the anorexia comment, if not before.

  2. There's a vague sense that the author thinks Jack's antics are "funny" or at the very least ironically droll. Instead he came off as one of those sad and pathetic men who never realize how sad and pathetic they are.


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