Short Take: A hilarious satire of modern society, featuring a vampire and a bunch of zombies.
Withrow Surrett is not your typical sparkling boy-band-looking vampire. He’s middle-aged, obese, living (or unliving, if you prefer) in the suburbs, a cranky Mr. Wilson to humanity’s Dennis the Menace. It’s during one of his Homeowners’ Association dinner meetings (right in the middle of the jellied beef loaf, actually) that the zombie apocalypse begins.
The undead – excuse me, the OTHER undead – are frightened of Withrow and avoid him, even as they attack any humans they encounter. So Withrow is left with a choice – save all these bothersome people, or let the zombies remove the annoyance once and for all. In the end, his love of a good fight wins out, and he and his massive Doberman, Smiles, dispatch the zombies in their neighborhood quickly and effectively.
The zombies are also trying to take over at Mt. Ares Baptist College, where Jennifer McCordy works in a basement closet-turned-office as a systems administrator. While the baseball team is looting the cafeteria, and camo-clad students are exercising their god-given Second Amendment rights on anyone who might or might not be a walking corpse, Jennifer joins forces with her boyfriend Tim and professor Everett Plank to fight the zombies using the best weapons at their disposal: a bunch of old computers.
With the end of the world postponed indefinitely, Withrow is shopping for a Blu-Ray player at a Black Friday Doorbusters sale a few years later when a new breed of zombies attack. He teams up with Jennifer, who’s now working retail, to save humanity yet again.
Michael G. Williams has a sharp eye for the absurdity of modern life. He manages to deftly mock everything from Black Friday sales to cell phone addicts to religious hypocrisy to suburbia in the most perfect way possible: by describing them with no embellishment whatsoever and a perfectly straight face. He’s Stephen Colbert meets Stephen King.
The voices of both Withrow and Jennifer are entertaining, but they are also pretty similar. Both of them are witty, sarcastic, and not so much into their fellow man. While I really enjoyed the thoughts and observations of both of them, I would have liked to see a little more variety in narrative tone. When Withrow and Jennifer team up, it’s because OF COURSE they would, they’re almost the same person. I can’t tell if this was a conscious decision to maintain consistency, or if it’s just the author’s natural voice that he didn’t rein in. It wasn’t too major of an issue for a fairly short novel, but I don’t know how well it would hold up over multiple books. Which leads me to my next point.
As fun as Perishables is, it’s the first book in a series, and it feels like it. There are a few characters that are introduced, and you get the sense that they’re going to be revisited and play a larger role later (Mary Lou, Seth), but they never do. Although technically the story is complete, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, it feels incomplete, like a setup for a larger story, which of course it is. For me, that was a bit of a turnoff. In my opinion, series work best if they work in one of a few ways. Either each book is perfectly complete in and of itself and you don’t have to read the others to enjoy it (Sandford’s Prey series), or there are cliffhangers at the end that you just have to see resolved (A Song of Ice & Fire, The Dark Tower), or there is a central conflict that runs throughout (Harry Potter), or a combination of those. I just didn’t feel like Perishables worked in those ways.
Finally, just as a sidenote, did anyone else get a Bentley Little’s “The Association” vibe from Mary Lou? Just me? Oh well, she was a great character regardless.
The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and a can of mixed fruit. Apparently you can use that stuff in all kinds of post-apocalyptic dishes.)