Having a fascination with unique, humorous zombies (Shaun of the Dead), I was pleased when I recently had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker.
Brains is an autobiographical accounting of the “undeath” of Professor Jack Barnes, who is bitten by a zombie during the outbreak of an unusual man-made virus. When Jack comes back to himself after his death, he realizes that he still possesses one of the talents he had when he was alive: Zombie Jack can write.
So he sets out on a journey to recruit others like himself and track down their creator, Howard Stein, inventor of the zombie virus. Once there, his plans are to use his written words to persuade the humans to give zombies equal rights. “The pursuit of life, liberty, and brains,” Jack writes.
On his journey, he meets Joan, a nurse with a deft hand for repairing zombie afflictions; Guts, a boy who can run like the wind (an unusual feat in a crowd of undead shufflers); Ros, a former soldier who has the unique ability (for a zombie) of speech; and Annie, a teenage girl with a pair of pistols and the aim of Annie Oakley.
At 192 pages, this book shouldn’t have taken me the several days that it did to finish; but somewhere in those several days I came to realize that Jack’s story isn’t just a zombie story. The zombies’ limitations speak not only to the plight of the undead, but also to the elderly, the infirm, and the mentally or physically impaired. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Perhaps I am. My maternal grandmother died very quickly of ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease) when I was 16, and the mental image I have of her possessing a perfectly sound mind while her body deteriorated around her has haunted me ever since.
“The pursuit of life, liberty, and brains,” Jack writes. It sounds humorous – and it is. But written between the lines are the further pursuits of open communication with other sentient beings, the ability to be cared for, of having ones needs met when one isn’t able to do for oneself. Of not being hated, feared, or mocked for what one looks like, or for being impaired physically or mentally.
I had no idea when I picked it up that I would read this short, humorous, light-hearted story so seriously. But I have, and I think that the plight of Professor Jack Barnes, zombie author, will be staying with me for a very long time.