Review: Fiend by Peter Stenson.

“And just like that, the mood’s shit. That’s how it always is among tweakers. Ecstatic to miserable in less than a second. Either too much scante or not enough or a thought that burrows into your brain and becomes an itch and then a fully colored panorama and then it’s real, that vision like a DVD skipping, over and over and over again.”

Fiend” by Peter Stenson

A little tidbit to lead us into my first review of 2015: I find it interesting that the first book I read last year and this year share a few things in common. They’re both horror stories with one word titles. The similarities end there, though, as this year’s Fiend by Peter Stenson was significantly much more enjoyable than last year’s Breed by Chase Novak. I went into Fiend not having heard anything about it, while Breed was a book I had been looking forward to after being intrigued by the blurb on the back of a book. So at least Fiend has saved one-word horror titles from being a completely awful experience for me all around.

Sometimes, when I review a book, I’ll reference a testimonial on the cover, usually because I’ve got to gawk at how different an experience the critic had than me. However, on the back of Fiend‘s cover, we get a quote from that touts the books as “Shaun of the Dead meets Trainspotting,” and, really, stole all the thunder from every other reviewer ever because that is exactly the best way to describe this book, right down to the basic bones of SotD being about the main character tugging along a fat friend to save a girlfriend who has moved on from the zombies. I haven’t seen Trainspotting, but I assume that’s where all the drug stuff comes in.

Because, you see, Fiend‘s hook is that, one day, everyone wakes up as zombies, except for meth heads. Something about methamphetamine makes people immune to whatever disease is turning the world into decaying, chuckling zombies (I might also note with a little bit of sick glee that the zombies are called Chucks, due to their constant chuckling, which would have driven my fervently anti-chuckle college professor absolutely nuts). The story itself is pretty basic for a zombie novel: save the loved ones, confront the fact that you have to kill your zombie-fied loved ones, go on the constant defensive trying to look for somewhere safe before everything goes to hell in a handbasket again, this time with the added bonus of, “Oh, shit, our cook is dead, we have to find another cook.” However, the story is told in a bit of a drug-induced haze, long rambling sentences, no quotation marks, that kind of thing, and, very often, the author tends to lean toward the device of making things more “raw” by using unnecessarily graphic or crude metaphors to give his writing an “edge.” This drove me crazy more than anything, especially at the beginning and end of the book (either he lightens up on it in the middle, or I just got used to it). I can handle the lack of quotations marks as a stylistic choice, especially considering that the narrator is a sped-up meth head, but I cannot forgive a turn of phrase that seems to exist solely for the purpose of being “shocking.”

Overall, I enjoyed Fiend, despite some of the flaws in style, the generally predictable plot, and a few details I’m not quite convinced on (why are so many Chucks in the prison naked? Do prisoners sleep naked and I just didn’t realize it? Sounds…unlikely, but, hey, the most experience I’ve had with prison is Orange is the New Black). Stenson has written some truly gripping sections in this book, the rambling mind of his main character drawing you right into his fucked up perception to the point where you realize you were forgetting to breathe, so you let out a sigh of relief right with them. I don’t want to say too much on how the main character develops, because I don’t want to give anything away. I found the journey into discovering who Chase Daniels really was to be fascinating and heartbreaking and emotion, on various levels, and I really enjoyed that ride the most. I don’t want to spoil anyone else’s by saying too much.

It’s a pretty good, solid zombie yarn, nothing too spectacular, though I can appreciate the new perspective and spin, and I’m ultimately glad I read it, though I don’t think it would necessarily make any of my “must-read” lists. I could see it being a great example in a class, though, were I ever to do something on zombie fic.

Books read: 001/100.

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