July 5, 2010

Stay Dead: The Stranger & Tunnel Rats (Review)


Stay Dead: The Stranger
and Tunnel Rats  (2009)

Steve Wands

Apparatus Revolution / Lulu.com: 2009


2.5 / 5 zedheads

Stay Dead is a very short collection of very short stories -- substantial snippets, really-- set during a very bleak zombie apocalypse. In "The Stranger," a distraught young woman is taken in by two elderly landlords at an apartment complex. In "Tunnel Rats," a homeless man has his hopes for improving his life dashed by the fall of the world to a zombie outbreak. Two other snippets -- "A Day with the Dead" and "The Last Broadcast" -- round out the collection. Like a mouth full of pop rocks, the stories in Stay Dead crackle and pop but are quickly gone.

In this small collection, Wands certainly shows off his talent for describing zombie gore and detailed settings, but often his descriptions feel journalistic and too by-the-numbers. In "Tunnel Rats" the tension and the atmosphere created during a scene set in a pizzeria comes to a halt as the narrative begins to describe every gory inch of a female zombie's body. It then takes a long time to get back the build of tension before the abrupt end of the story. Similarly, in "The Stranger" there is tremendous detail put into describing a woman's body and her surroundings as she dresses and scrounges for supplies, but the characters in general are painted with broad strokes.

 Perhaps because Wands writes comics he's used to a narrative style that focuses on very descriptive detail to aid the artists, but not all the details serve a written story. In longer works, these sections would not draw attention to themselves, but Stay Dead is so pithy as a collection they're hard to miss. My favorite stories are the shortest: "The Last Broadcast" and "A Day with the Dead." They are economical in their description and either end with an emotional punch or a darkly wry twist befitting their length. The "longer" works didn't do much for me. "The Stranger" felt like the beginning of an unfinished novel whereas "Tunnel Rats" felt like an intriguing idea for a novel condensed into 12 pages. They are not bad examples of writing, but they did not strike me as stories suited to their short lengths.

I look forward to more substantial works by Steve Wands that (I hope) will carry more depth of character and a longer word count. Obviously, Wands has his fingers on the pulse of what can make a zombie story work; I just don't think he gave himself the space to dig in and pull it to the surface.

If you're looking for a snappy summer read, Stay Dead offers better-than-usual zombie stories, but they don't carry much weight or punch as stories in-and-of themselves. Despite their bleak outcomes, the stories feel oddly breezy and blink-and-you'll-miss-them.