by S.G. Browne
Meet Andy Warner, a recently deceased everyman and newly minted zombie. Resented by his parents, abandoned by his friends, and reviled by a society that no longer considers him human, Andy is having a bit of trouble adjusting to his new existence. But all that changes when he goes to an Undead Anonymous meeting and finds kindred souls in Rita, an impossibly sexy recent suicide with a taste for the formaldehyde in cosmetic products, and Jerry, a twenty-one-year-old car-crash victim with an exposed brain and a penchant for Renaissance pornography. When the group meets a rogue zombie who teaches them the joys of human flesh, things start to get messy, and Andy embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will take him from his casket to the SPCA to a media-driven class-action lawsuit on behalf of the rights of zombies everywhere.
Darkly funny, surprisingly touching, and gory enough to satisfy even the most discerning reader, Breathers is a romantic zombie comedy (rom-zom-com, for short) that will leave you laughing, squirming, and clamoring for more.
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I was hoping for some funny slapstick when I picked this up (which I got), but it's so much more than that. Breathers is a satire lampooning prejudice and civil rights, starring everyman Andy, who wakes up to realize he's dead and unwanted by the world. Browne creates a zombie that makes sense to me: it's not needlessly shuffling and moaning for brains, it's just a normal guy (or gal) who just didn't die after they, well, died, and now are dealing with the social ramifications of not doing what you're ultimately supposed to do -- and slowly rotting while you're at it. His zombies are sad little things, unable to feel physical pain, but feeling emotional pain acutely, as they slowly decompose into oblivion, or have their demise sped up by being donated to science. They are the constant targets of humans (which is funny and creepy at the same time. It's ridiculous and funny when frat boys attack a zombie by ripping off his arm and beating him with it. But at the same time, it's a horror show, and though I'm sure people would protest, I don't think it's that far-fetched of one. Humans are not the most tolerant of beings for sure, and we all seem to forget that the Civil Rights Movement was a) not that long ago, and b) a counter to some pretty horrific -- and sadly common -- things. Like beatings and lynchings. That were public events. That went unpunished. I'm just saying.)
It makes sense that humans, who don't have a great track record to start, would react with so much animosity to zombies: they're unnatural, and religious extremists would have a field day, but more than that, they would cause us to confront what most people spend their lives avoiding: death. To mourn your loved one, only to have them come back and sit, rotting in your basement, is unsettling to say the least. But you'd probably tolerate them, since they are your loved one. But what if it's some nameless not-person that you don't know, making you feel uncomfortable and think about things you avoid at all costs? There's bound to be tension there, and as that builds and becomes more and more uncomfortable, it makes sense that people would lash out. Creepy, but sadly believable. Of course, the open animosity may be exaggerated and a bit unrealistic in its scope, but with satire, that's sort of the point.
Meanwhile, zombies are just not-dead dead guys. They haven't changed all that much, only to discover that their world has. They're not welcome, they're not considered human; they can't vote, or raise the children they've left behind. If they cause a disturbance in public (basically just be being in public), they are sent to the pound, where they are held until someone claims them or three days is up, at which mark they are donated to science. Andy and his zombie friends cope with this stress by attending Undead Anonymous meetings and consuming products with preservatives (like formaldehyde) in them, to slow the rotting, all the while trying to feel some kind of normalcy. What's a zombie to do? Fight the power, of course.
Oh, that and maybe find out if there's anything to that whole eating braaaaaaaaaaains thing...
I really didn't mean for this review to turn into what it did...Simply put, I got what I wanted out of Breathers, only more so. I cared about Andy and was willing to go along with his fight, seeing the zombies as the good guys, and us humans as bad. On top of that, Breathers is genuinely funny; even when I was cringing, I was laughing. The story, and Browne's writing, work on so many levels. It's a touch of Chuck Palahnuik and a touch of Christopher Moore, but in the end, it really is Browne's own. If you're looking for a non-traditional zombie story to kick back and enjoy, this is the one.
Here's my "zombie teaser" of the beginning of Breathers:
Or check out these "NecroBufrin" ads:
(this is funny, too)