The Reapers Are the Angels

March 20, 2011

Well, I finished The Reapers are the Angels. Which is by Alden Bell, not “some guy,” Imogen- way to Google. Anyway I was into it. I’m a pretty slow reader, but I finished it in two days. Very bleak. I guess I haven’t read much of the Southern gothic that people talk about when they talk about this book- I liked As I Lay Dying, but I haven’t read any other Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor or anything- so I couldn’t tell you how right on those comparisons are, but I have read, uh, the first half of Blood Meridian (before I lost the copy I’d borrowed from the library, oops) and I will say that this made me want to pick that one up again, those terse sentences and that fatalist, theist-meaning-we-are-powerless-which-is-kind-of-abjectly-beautiful tone. Like the whole book, the tone was basically the same as the part where Danny Boyle makes you feel all fucked up by playing Godspeed You Black Emperor instead of something obvious like White Zombie in 28 Days Later, because you hadn’t really seen that defeatist bummer vibe in a zombie story before.  And also you didn’t know it was Godspeed You Black Emperor yet because all you liked in 2002 was the Locust and Converge and violins and 25-minute songs seemed kind of wimpy.

Except in the middle of The Reapers are the Angels, it turns from 28 Days Later into those gruesome Dr. Satan scenes toward the end of House of 1,000 Corpses, where you were so totally creeped out and horrified and surprised by how the tone had shifted- from fun to horrifying in House of 1,000 Corpses; from bleak to horrifying in The Reapers Are the Angels- that it kind of felt like the mirror image version of feeling ecstasy come on when you were eighteen, all grinding teeth and vertigo.

So that was nice.

I guess I wish there had been less plot, though, actually. I mean, toward the end there’s a different scene that we also in 28 Days Later- and another toward the middle- and there’s a bunch of stuff we’ve already seen in George Romero; an Amazon reviewer made the point that Bell intentionally went through zombie story tropes so that he could color them in with his own, y’know, lonesome tone, which might be what happened, and which I guess would be fine. I mean, I know I’m in the minority in terms of caring a fuck of a lot more about the tone of what’s going on than I care about the specifics of what’s going on; I was just kind of like “yes, you’ve got a zombie tied up downstairs when you should’ve killed him, whatever; yes, whatever, inside the ostensible safe house, humanity is even more dangerous than zombies, whatever.” Y’know? I didn’t feel like much needed to be happening. I would’ve been fine with a book about a fifteen year old girl wandering around a lonely country talking about how lonely she was and how much she regretted everything all the time. Plus there was an attempted sexual assault I had to skip.

Which isn’t to say I wasn’t super into this. I was. It was a total bummer and it was a meditation on loneliness and it was a not-zombie-story pretending to be a zombie story, which I guess is what all zombie stories are. Five flaming skulls!

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