Author: Joyce Carol Oates
My Rating: ★★★1/2
Goodreads Summary: “Meet Quentin P., the most believably terrifying sexual psychopath and killer ever brought to life in fiction. The author deftly puts you inside the mind of a serial killer — succeeding not in writing about madness, but in writing with the logic of madness.”
*TW: murder, rape*
Zombie was one of the most intense reading experiences I’ve ever had. There were times when I stopped reading for a moment because of how vile it is inside Quentin’s mind. I found myself retreating into my sweatshirt while reading. I don’t think I’ve ever been so disturbed by a book. This is all to say that Oates did an excellent job getting into the mind of a serial killer. This novel is 181 pages and reads quickly at times, but is super hard to get through at others. I quite honestly don’t know how much more I could have taken. Even when I wasn’t reading it, I found myself thinking about it. Quentin has such a deeply disturbing mind devoid of normal emotion and thought that his perspective is hard to let go of, no matter if I wanted to.
Oates’ writing style for this novel works well, but is not necessarily the easiest to read. Given that it’s written from Quentin’s perspective, this makes sense. His thoughts are disjointed and jumbled, spiraling and jumping around in time. Additionally, Oates uses a lot of short sentences and bad grammar, like run-on sentences and lack of capitalization to give authenticity. It makes his mind seem busy and disorganized. This all adds to the disturbing content by making it clear that Quentin does not think like a normal person. She also uses capitalizations of words to add emphasis. This at times is effective, as it makes him seem angry and stuck in a thought pattern or fixated on something. However, at other times, this technique feels awkward and random. I think another way of emphasizing would have made it easier to read (like bolding words).
Zombie is also interesting read because Quentin (or Q_ P_) speaks in first person, but also speaks about himself in the third person. This helps to show he likely has some disconnect between himself and what he’s doing, even though he is fully aware of the horrendous crimes he is committing. Quentin also only uses some people’s real names, otherwise writing a blank, like he does for himself at times. This is interesting, because it gives only some people importance and erases a part of identity. It gives the impression that Quentin doesn’t care enough about others (or himself) to properly identify them. To him, people are unimportant or for his own use, more science experiments than humans.
Quentin skims over some details, but goes into immense detail about other things, like his room. This speaks to his narcissism and how little he cares for others. Later in the book, this escalates to short but horrible depictions of what he does to his victims.
Oates does a great job building Quentin’s character. The readers are introduced to him for around 30 pages before there’s an alarming (creepy) observation made about someone. This helps a lot, since like I’ve said, this book is intense and being eased into it helps a lot.
The story flows well, up until the very end. I hated the end of this book, because there is no ending. It reads like Oates just forgot to write one. It leaves the story feeling unfinished and like more should happen. I wanted more of a conclusion than I got. I felt like the ending and the book in general was missing something I couldn’t quite pinpoint.
Oates clearly did her research and it shows. (Side note: most of my knowledge about serial killers comes from true crime documentaries and high school health class). Quentin has no real emotions, talks about his failed “zombies” like failed experiments rather than dead people and lacks understanding about how the world works. From what I’ve watched, this seems correct and realistic.
Other than the ending, my only real complaint about Zombie is that Quentin is too similar to Jeffrey Dahmer. Oates is certainly capable of writing unique, interesting characters (I found her from reading “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” in my Literary Studies class, which has many interesting characters). She would certainly have been able to create her own character from scratch. I have no problem with taking aspects of known murderers to create a character, but Quentin is very similar to Dahmer.
*This is where that trigger warning is really going to come into play*
I am first going to take some fault here and say I know a lot about Dahmer, so I may have noticed this more than someone who doesn’t constantly watch true crime documentaries. Dahmer attempted to make some people unable to think for themselves (and therefore be entirely in his control) by drilling into their brains and then injecting either acid or boiling water. He saved body parts from his victims, who were mostly African – American or other people of color. He raped his victims who were often underaged. He was white in his 20’s – 30’s and gay. While there were other aspects of his crimes Oates did not put into Zombie, she used all of the above. If she had kept only the lobotomizing of victims, but changed the rest, I think I would have found this book more original.
I think that this book is super well written and interesting. I would highly recommend it, but warn everyone that it is hard to read.
Thank you for reading