I have, I confess, a certain soft spot for zombies. I know that I’m supposed to be over them, that they are yesterday’s news, that everyone has done the zombie thing (and the vampire thing) to death (haha), but I’m always delighted when I find a zombie story that manages to buck the norm and do something interesting with it. The Infects is actually an older release, but I liked it when it came out, and still like it now. It’s a somewhat gonzo take on the zombie trope (not unusual, I confess), but it comes with an element of the utterly bizarre and whimsical, like Grasshopper Jungle, which is another totally fantastic gonzo book.
I just realised that I’ve reviewed two ultraviolent, disgusting books in a row — maybe that says something about my present mood. I sternly refuse to read too much into it, though I swear I am not a violent person! I just sometimes like reading violent books (but not watching violent movies); especially when they are twisted and weird, rather than just straight-up gory. There’s a special combination of the absurd and the macabre that I adore — I can’t write that way, without it feeling precious and forced, which is maybe why I love it so much.
So, The Infects. Our hero, Nero, is in pretty much the shittiest life place ever. He’s in high school, which is bad enough, but he works at a local chicken processing plant to support his family. If you think that means he comes home reeking of blood and death and covered in feathers, enjoy your gold star. He’s not the only teen making his allowance at the chicken plant; so is the object of his affections, and assortment of classmates.
Things start to go awry, though, when he gets put on a special project, handling a top-secret product that’s long been in development. After he cuts himself on the production floor and gets caught up in the fit of the giggles that ends up in a destructive rampage, he’s shipped off for ‘reeducation’ along with his fellow teenage delinquents. They’re supposed to go enjoy nature and think deeply about their crimes on a camping expedition, which, uh, doesn’t go as planned when his fellow campers start eating each other.
The thing is, once they eat each other, the eaten just won’t stay dead, and before he knows it, Nero and the handful of survivors find themselves to be the targets of a hungry zombie army. They’ve got to figure out how to get themselves off the mountain without turning into brain-hungry fiends, and along the way, it would be nice to determine what caused the zombieism. Nero has his suspicions, but he’s not sure he’s ready to voice them…and along with his fellow survivors, he’s forced to develop a list of ‘zombie rules’ from the sensible to the irreverent in the hopes of getting out alive.
Sometimes I want to read books simply because they are funny, and The Infects is indeed funny. It’s not everyone’s brand of humour, to be sure; not everyone is a fan of gore and gonzo writing, but for those of us who enjoy it, it’s fantastic YA. Since there’s not a lot of good YA in this category, I like it when I can find it, and I’m always excited to add new authors to watch for to my slowly growing list. Funny books can be a great form of escapism, even when the subject matter is considerably grim and it might seem unbelievable that a book about zombies could possibly be entertaining.
It’s not just funny, though. It’s also a dark text, and not just in the sense of dark humour. It’s a commentary on society and how we interact with each other, of course, and there’s a healthy dose of challenge to industrial farming and mass-produced foods. It’s hard to write that kind of text without seeming overbearing, but Beaudoin accomplished it, weaving it into the story with brilliance and without clonking readers (or zombies) on the head with the issue bat. The book is definitely more about the people and the plots than questions of ethics about where we source our food and what we eat.
Furthermore, the worldbuilding in The Infects is actually quite solid, beyond the superficial, goofy, hilarious veneer. It’s structured well, and the mythology behind the creation of the zombies — and what happens to them next — is well-established and thought out. Sometimes authors of texts like these get caught up in the ridiculous levels of gore and horror, and fail to back it up with a world that makes sense, but Beaudoin resisted that temptation and stayed focused on the larger text and the world he set it in. The result is something that elevates the text slightly above traditional horror — it merits a second, closer read to uncover the deeper layers within.
If you like zombies, and you want to see a different take on them, and you have a deep appreciation for macabre, and you like ultragore, you’re probably going to like The Infects. However, if you do not like any of these things — particularly if you dislike violence — it might not be the best choice of texts for you. Which is okay! My deep affection for horror is not necessarily shared by everyone, and that’s perfectly all right. (And I promise, I’ll get out of my horror phase soon and review something less unpleasant!)