Good evening, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World. It’s been a couple months since I’ve had a review for you of a new piece of fiction from Greg Lamberson, my ultra-prolific fellow Buffalonian. So I was very pleased when I received an advance copy of Greg’s new novella (his first venture into this format) CARNAGE ROAD, an “unforgettable ode to westerns, biker pictures, and the cinema of the living dead.” I like westerns. I like biker pictures. I’m even kinda okay with zombies — though if you’ll forgive me a moment readers, I’ve come to the conclusion that the modern zombie genre is itself a zombie, mindless and lurching, simply going through the motions of life.
CARNAGE ROAD is the story of Boone and Walker, two biker gangsters in the days after the Zombie Apocalypse hits. Their gang, the Flying Dragons, falling apart under the combined assault of the anthropophagous dead and rival groups of desperate, trigger-happy mortals, Boone and Walker decide to see America — they head west from Buffalo, NY (the novella actually begins on a street I drive down on my way to work every morning) in the direction of Hollywood, and after visiting Tinsel Town, end up in Texas. Along the way they gun down ghouls, steal beer, steal food, encounter other desperate mortals, and see both the best and worst the remnants of the human race has to offer…but more the worst.
I think the sense of malaise I’ve come to feel towards zombies kicked me right in the gut here. In the past, reading Greg’s novels…I’d simply sit down and not move until I’d finished them. CARNAGE ROAD…I’d read a couple pages, put it down, do something else, come back and read a few more pages later…it just didn’t hold me. And it took me a long time to figure out what the problem was. Was it the plot? The format? The zombies?
Greg’s prose is as rich and lively as ever, but I feel like some of his spirit is missing from CARNAGE ROAD. It just doesn’t have the same intensity as THE FRENZY WAY or THE JAKE HELMAN FILES. And to be perfectly honest…one of my favorite elements in Greg’s novels is that he takes monsters that have become cliche — werewolves, zombies, demons, Cthulhu — and gives them an invigorating new spin that takes the reader off guard. CARNAGE ROAD is lacking that spin — the zombies are just standard-issue Romero/Russo-style mindless gutmunchers. There’s just no pizzazz to them.
In fact, the whole novella is kind of like that. Maybe I’m thinking with my stomach, but the best analogy I can think of is that it’s like a plain cheese pizza — technically satisfying, but leaving the consumer wanting. The zombies, the biker gang, the rednecks, the underlying theme of “strip away the veneer of civilization in an emergency and living humans are worse then the ghouls”…all the elements one could want of a story crossing zombie fiction, biker movies and westerns are present, but nothing in particular stands out.
Actually, I take that back. One scene, as Boone and Walker cross Kansas, does stand out. They come across a field in which are planted row upon row upon row of 20-foot tall crosses. Nailed to each of these is a ghoul, and after a moment the duo realize that none of the ghouls were caucasian in life; all of them are racial minorities. Has the Klan gone post-mortem, or were these individuals nailed up while still alive?
Greg Lamberson has a great deal of incredible fiction to his credit, and ranks among my favorite living authors. For me, CARNAGE ROAD fell flat, though I can’t help but suspect that it’s a story that will prove a lot more satisfying to those who enjoy Romero’s films more than I do. I’ve heard a few hints about what Greg has in the works for later this year, and I am deeply excited about what he has in store. Just, please Greg, keep turning monsters on their ear?