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So far, there are a few reasons why I don't like Dust by Joan Frances Turner. I'm only halfway through, so I reserve the right to decide that these are the reasons why I don't like the first half -- but still. I think the book is pretty flawed, especially since I was supposed to power through it; I was supposed to find it "intense" and "disturbingly realistic," which are two things I love in books (and all media, really).

I do not think it is either intense or realistic. Or disturbing, for that matter. I'm bored. I keep it in the bathroom and read about a page every day, because you know what else is in the bathroom? A Woman Within catalog from last winter that I have looked at a million times and still find more interesting. (Also in the bathroom: a bunch of different types of laundry detergent that I have been reading the back labels of. You know why? Because they are more interesting than this book.)

Here's one thing the book is that I was not expecting: It's gory. The reviews I read actually said that the book isn't gory, but I disagree -- there are a lot of detailed descriptions of gore. That doesn't bug me, except for one thing: I don't find it interesting. It reminds me a lot of torture porn -- like, the Saw movies, for example. Someone described the Saw movies to me as "genuinely scary" so I watched one. It did not scare me; I was bored. It was gory. Maybe if these things were real life, it would be scary or disturbing -- I mean, probably if someone's arm got ripped off in front of me, I would feel a whole myriad of emotions like scared and worried and grossed out. But in a book? In a movie? That isn't the kind of thing that gets under my skin.

(Now, if we were talking about war media, then yeah. Yeah, I find pretty much anything horrifying in the context of any media about war, although particularly visual media. To the point where I fast-forward through all of Owen's flashbacks to Afghanistan on Grey's Anatomy, and only got through the first part of Band of Brothers -- the part where they're all just hanging around Europe hitting on each other and waiting for people to write fanfic about them.)

Anyway, back to Dust. I think it has structural flaws. I'm halfway through, and the author has only just revealed the plot of the book. That's a lot of pages to be following a bunch of boring zombies around for setup. The book is basically a hundred pages or so of just... exposition. And the book is narrated by a teenage girl who died and was reanimated into a zombie. She describes to the reader how she doesn't care about humans (or "hoos") anymore, how she didn't care about her parents, how she thinks hoos are all stupid cows... but she still won't eat one. She'll stick to deer. (Too edgy? IDK.) She's really into her zombie family, but that also doesn't make any sense -- but the parts that don't make sense are hand-waved away by the author, who has the narrator tell the reader that the reader just won't understand, because the reader is not a zombie. You know, zombies are super special, and you change when you reanimate, and the things that are important to you as a zombie are not the same things that were important when you were a human.

And I get that (I guess), but it doesn't make sense in the narrative; it doesn't add up for me. The narration itself is so all over the place. I guess I could chalk that up to the narrator being a teenage girl -- but as the narrator painstakingly reminds us over and over again, she's not a teenage girl anymore. She's reanimated. So the author doesn't even get that one out.

The narrator (sorry, I don't remember her name, because the book is boring) graphically describes the changes her body is going through as she decomposes, and I find myself incredibly skeptical. Okay, I don't know much about decomposing, since I've never really done any research into it. But I have a hard time believing that a zombie's reanimated body can hang around for more than a century without completely falling apart. There's a whole bit, too, about how the zombies just turn into skeletons.

But what is holding them together???

Turner is really careful to craft this "realistic" (give me a break) world, and then I'm supposed to believe that, like, magic is holding bones together or something? A hundred pages of exposition and world building, and she can't come up with something better than that?

Of course, the zombies wouldn't know, because they don't do research -- they just amble around the countryside killing deer and making fun of hoos and dancing. Yeah, they dance. Just like Plants vs. Zombies (on sale for half off right now, btw!) -- which I enjoy playing, but I'm not sure I'd read the novelization of it, you know?

They also communicate telepathically -- they'd have to, wouldn't they, since the tongue is one of the first things to go. I'm not sure why it takes a hundred pages to tell the reader this, though.

I can't help but compare this to zombie stuff that I really love (the Resident Evil movies, Shaun of the Dead, and Mira Grant's Feed, for example). There are a few big differences between the zombie stuff I really like, and this.

For one, I like tight stories. I like complicated and complex stories that have layers of meaning and plot. I like stories that have more than one thing happening. And, of course, the other zombie stories are from the POV of humans -- not the POV of the shambling zombies. What this has made me wonder about is whether or not I really like zombies at all. Do I? Or do I just like zombies as a delivery system for three of my favorite things in media ever: apocalypse, fighting, and disease!

There is some great zombie media in which the zombies are reanimated because of diseases -- in fact, my favorite zombie movies and books are disease-based. And that pretty much always leads to an apocalypse of some kind, and a world in the future that's very different from our world now. (Often there is social commentary involved that I mostly blow off.) Apocalypse means a lot of things I really enjoy reading about (do I need to qualify that I would not enjoy living through it?) like finding out what's really inside people (uh, emotionally/morally, not physically), displays of and learning about survivalist skills, creation of new social and moral orders... And in movies, it tends to mean cool clothes, too, which I appreciate.

Then, of course, people have to fight off the zombies, which leads to action sequences! I am a big fan of the well done action sequence. Sure, go ahead, fight the guy with nails coming out of his head using only some coins and a showerhead! That scene in the third Resident Evil movie with all the crows and fire? Amazing!

Well, Anna, why don't you just ingest media about disease? There's a lot of it! Start with The Stand by Stephen King! Here's the thing, though: I have always found disease novels kind of boring. I read The Stand when I was, whatever, twelve? Thirteen? I could not have been more bored. There's only so much moralizing and destruction of everything that I can take -- it gets kind of boring after a while. A lot of disease novels are either focused on the doctors who are curing (or failing to cure) the disease or they focus on the world after it's been ravaged by the disease, the people who are rebuilding or fighting or trying to take what little power is left.

Zombies, however, are a force that can be fought. So anyone with a gun (or an axe, or whatever) can kill a zombie -- can fight against the disease. Zombies are a tale of the everyperson and their struggles against the outside forces trying to keep them down! Zombies: secretly The Man? (Maybe that's taking it too far.) Zombies are also fair game: they want to kill you. It's kill or be killed, primal forces, etc., but it's also okay. There's no shame in killing a zombie. There's no downside.

I'm willing to entertain the idea that out there (maybe not even created yet!) is a zombie book or movie that will do what Dust has completely failed to do, and convince me of the humanity of zombies. Dust, however, has managed to make zombies (disease zombies!!) less interesting than the text on the back of laundry detergent.
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I'm watching Justified. Have y'all ever seen it? It is a really awful show that is nevertheless incredibly enjoyable. I love Timothy Olyphant's teeth, and his walk is, like, the definition of a "loose-hipped gait," isn't it? Like a romance novel hero.

I thought for a moment that my grasp of geography has been getting worse when in the last episode I watched, Timothy Olyphant's teeth and hips tracked a fugitive to the Mexican border. What?! Since when does Kentucky border Mexico? Then I realized that while I was counting my knitting stitches, I somehow missed them heading out to California. Haha. In this episode I'm watching now, Buster Bluth deals in art painted by Hitler! Double haha.

Today I was nosing around the book racks in WalMart, and I couldn't help but notice that two of the four bookshelves were all romance novels. One entire bookshelf was taken up with Harlequin series -- they're putting out Christmas books already! Harlequin, it is only October. You should be selling The Devil's Halloween Baby, not His Christmas Love! The other romance novel bookshelf was entirely contemporary paranormals and contemporary westerns. Now, I am a big fan of paranormals (obviously), and I do have a (not so) secret love of the western romance, full of ranches and Montana and women in cowboy hats. But... a whole bookshelf? And nothing else? That seems pretty excessive.

(If you're interested... Bookshelf #3 was all YA -- Cassandra Clare and Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins and Stephenie Meyer. Bookshelf #4 was all action/adventure and bestselling hardcover nonfiction.)

Speaking of books! I started reading Dust by Joan Frances Turner. I can see why people are making a big deal of this book, especially since it's told from the POV of a zombie. Cool, right? But I thought it was supposed to be a grim, scary book. I'm about a third of the way through, and so far it's just sort of wandering around the worldbuilding with no real story being told -- and it's gory. It's really gory. I don't think things that are gory are scary or interesting; I think gory tends to be pretty boring. I don't get off in any way on torture porn, written or visual.

I think it would probably really interest thirteen year olds, though.

That's one of the problems with being an adult and reading YA. Were I acquiring YA for a YA audience, I would be reading with a different eye. But I'm an adult reading YA fiction for entertainment. I'm not necessarily looking to completely dump my critical reading skills, but I'm also not looking to replicate my uncomplicated childhood reading experiences, either. So I want a lot more things -- complicated things -- from YA books. And I get that from some authors, I really do. And from others... well, I can see why the target market would enjoy it, but I personally am not.

I'll probably finish the book anyway, especially since the prose is not torturous, but darn it. I was really hoping it would be super dark and super grim and super depressing and more traditionally "post-apocalyptic." Sigh!

Hey, you know what else about books? The first draft of the sequel to Salt and Silver is finished! Two weeks ahead of schedule, too. Now it's time to reread and revise!


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anna genoese

November 2015

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