I hate zombies. In video games, stories, tv shows, movies, you name it. I have no interest in them. Either fast or slow-moving. I’m pretty sick of this decades-long pop culture obsession with the apocalypse, in general, but with zombies especially I have had enough. I discussed it half-jokingly with my mother once–in the event of a (can there just be “a” zombie apocalypse? I suppose it must be “the”) zombie apocalypse, we’re driving off the nearest cliff, Thelma and Louise-style. I gain no joy from imagining how I and this or that person with meaning to me might go about attempting to survive such an incursion. I look at it almost like slash fanfic writers look at Mary Sues. Scornful almost to the point of taking offense.
But when an office email went around requesting recommendations for summer reading, I put down Carolyn See’s Golden Days without a moment’s pause. I tried to pitch it to people who are into this zombie/apocalyptic business, because it’s better than whatever they’ve been watching or reading. There are no zombies. Per se. But there are…similarities. And amongst all the things that melt and rot and fall off, our narrator’s ability to be brutal and brilliant and insightful does not. The end of that book–for a gruesome, if not terribly insightful comparison–felt like losing my first baby tooth. Ripping it out, actually, because that is what I did, sitting on the sidelines of a pin dodge game in first grade gym class. I hated the taste of the blood and the pain but I knew if I managed to lose it at school I’d be given a bright little treasure chest to put it in, and that people would fawn over me and tell me I was growing up and that they remembered when I was just thissss big etc. etc. I’d seen it happen to others. And I wanted that. So I marched up to my gym teacher with a huge gap in the front of my mouth and a fistful of gore and announced that I should probably go to the nurse’s office. Which I proceeded to do, in triumph and in glory.
The second half of Golden Days is not pretty. There are parts where it is best to have an empty stomach. But it is triumphant. Those whose attraction to the rotting and the decay of people and society stems from a resentful desire to watch things burn, look elsewhere. This is not for those who want to cackle over the smoldering remains of the life we know. This is for those who came for the afterglow, and who always will.