Book Review: FEED by Mira Grant

Title: FEED

Author: Mira Grant

Genre: Horror – Zombies

Grade: 4 out of 5 stars

Review:

The thing about the zombie horror genre is that most of the works within them are set either when the zombification begins (Dawn of the Dead) or right after its happened, in the apocalyptic landscape of the aftermath and trying to survive (The Walking Dead). FEED differs from the zombie norm by jumping forward twenty years. The landscape is hardly apocalyptic; instead, it’s very much like today, just with zombies and more guns and medical tests. Oddly enough, this makes it easier for me to handle, given my apocalypse phobia. I read The Passage last year, and while it was extremely well-written, I was left in a somewhat paranoid depressive state for about two weeks after reading it, given its bleak outlook. (Yes, I’m a media masochist – I know these things will hurt me, but I read or watch them anyway.) However, FEED doesn’t give in to the usual bleak outlook of apocalyptic fiction. Grant imagines a world where we survive that worst only a little worse for wear.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t suffer, and it doesn’t mean that society doesn’t change … nor does it mean that society does change. FEED sets itself firmly in the realm of politics, whose rhetoric and double speak and scary ideologues haven’t changed at all.

What’s very refreshing about Grant’s authorial perspective on politics is that her protagonists are bloggers asked to be part of the media entourage of a worthy potential Republican presidential candidate (depressingly apropos at the time I began reading it). Grant imagines a world that logically extends from the one in which we reside now, in which blogs provide a wealth of journalistic information, even if it’s not as well-received by “legitimate” forms of journalism, from newspapers and magazines and television news and other traditional media. In fact, Senator Ryman – the presidential candidate who they trail – breaks the mold by asking bloggers to follow the campaign rather than only depending on mainstream media.

Maybe it’s just the kind of authors and the kinds of books I read, but I almost forget about technology when I’m reading books or even watching television. I read a lot of Stephen King as comfort brain food, and he was his most cutting tech edge when he wrote Cell, which quickly became dated with the rise of the smartphone. And when I’m watching television, the computer stuff there is so out of this world, but it rarely includes everyday technology in the way that most people integrate it into their lives today. FEED changed that. As I got into her world, it just kind of hit me, Oh yeah, the interwebs exist in fiction, too. And I think Grant did an excellent job integrating technology with fiction without making it boring or too technical.

Instead, she created an entire blogging world that could conceivably exist in our time, sans the zombies: the Newsies (with a smile-inducing nod to the movie of the same name), who report news with the same presumed objectivity as journalists should have, although Grant nods to the way that stories can be spun and organizations can be coerced; the Irwins (named after Steve Irwin, which I think would make him very proud), who go out and poke zombies with a sharp stick to get ratings with adrenaline boosts; and Fictionals, who write poetry or fiction. As a fanfic writer, this nod to the wealth of fiction available online now just warmed my little digital heart.

More than anything, Grant seems to be thorough and devoted to world-building. She’s a storyteller, and it shows in her easy writing and her commitment to the voice of her characters. That’s usually what I care about, more than whether it’s a literary masterpiece. Is it a good story? FEED is a great story, with tech, conspiracies, and Kellis-Amberlee – the zombie virus – weaponized for terrorists acts.

As far as characters and voice, I was a bit thrown here and there by the cleverness of the voices. This seems to be a matter of personal preference. I know that some people can’t stand Joss Whedon’s dialogue (a writer who has clearly influenced Grant) because it’s too damn clever by half and rubs against people’s sense of realistic dialogue. I, on the other hand, love Whedon’s works precisely because of their cleverness. I am not, however, accustomed to it in books, so it’s taken me awhile to accept the cleverness of the dialogue and the narrative voice, as accepted under the Fiction Rule: Fiction can be a little better than the real world for the purposes of entertainment and clarity and interest. It’s the same rule that means you don’t have to know every detail of a person’s day, and why fictional characters rarely have to pee. It’s also the same rule that allows everything a person says to be linear, with very few of the ums, uhs, likes, and changes in thought direction that real dialogue has. So, if you’re unaccustomed to cleverness in books, it may take a while to get used to FEED, but don’t let that stop you.

The characters: We have Georgia “George” Mason, Shaun Mason, and Georgette “Buffy” Meissonier. Let’s just love these names now. Grant stated that George and George-derivative names were very popular after the rising, which just tickled me. Shaun is likely a nod to Shaun of the Dead, and Buffy actually named herself after Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to make sure there weren’t two Georges on the blog team.

George is a hard-boiled young Newsie committed to the truth with little tolerance for fools or spin. Shaun is an Irwin. They’re adopted siblings who depend on each other to an extreme degree; they’re intimate in a way many married couples never are, but Grant deals with this well. George knows that their closeness is sometimes construed in a negative way. But they only really have each other, with parents that use them for ratings and only show affection in front of cameras; they complete each other and can trust each other with their lives, which is important in a zombie-infested world where they go out and make zombie news, with Shaun poking at any living dead thing he can find. They’ve got each other’s backs, as well as an arsenal of weapons, cameras, and a van secure for zombie attack. Buffy is their somewhat ditzy tech wizard who is also a Fictional. She lacks the cynicism of George and Shaun and brings some humanity and sentiment to the team.

George is sometimes abrasive and unpleasant in her world, but given that hers comprises the narrative voice, we’re able to see the world through her eyes, and we can see her complete love for her brother and her complete devotion to the importance of telling the truth in a media world where it’s a lot easier to spin. She is a very principled women, one of the few left with journalistic integrity. As a Newsie, she always wants the story, but the story is merely a vehicle – it’s truth she’s after, and even when she’s badass crankypants, you still respect her for that. She shows you the world twenty years after the Rising with more straightforward truth and more fearlessness than most people living in the U.S. of A. at the time of the story. Hers is a narrative voice you can trust.

If I were to make any criticism about Grant’s FEED, I would have to say that she’s sometimes repetitive in her explanations. A little repetition isn’t a crime, but there’s a difference between explaining something to us three times and explaining something to us once and integrating it into the story two other times. It’s a subtle difference in the writing, but I felt like some points of the post-Rising world were explained more than once, which was unnecessary. Also, I felt like the justification for the conspiracy was weak in execution, and I wonder if it’ll be addressed in more depth in Deadline, the sequel. Sure, the antagonist in the book was sufficiently antagonistic, but I felt like the justification was ill-defined and somewhat pat, almost as if it weren’t the real justification at all and only the surface of the justification. Which is entirely possible – after all, this is politics. However, it just felt like … not enough. And it’s these things that put it in the realm of 4 out of 5 stars, in spite of the things that really resonated with me and made FEED a book I would recommend to anyone. (Scroll down to the end for my Final Thoughts.)

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SPOILERS – Seriously, SPOILERS

Let me begin by explaining that I easily cry at emotional moments in television and movies. A moving musical score and watching someone else cry does wonders for my tear ducts. However, only one book has ever made me cry before, and that’s Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, the part where the protagonist comes downstairs in the costume that makes her feel beautiful and more like a wife fit for Maxim, and Maxim gets furious (for reasons only known to him at the time) and makes her take it off. I was in seventh grade and my family was driving on a vacation from Texas to Florida, and I believe we had stopped in Mobile, Alabama, to walk through the Battleship Memorial Park. Within a few minutes after leaving the USS Alabama and driving out of the parking lot, I was in tears and a bit bewildered as to why that particular scene affected me so much. I mean, it was a painful scene, but crying? I simply don’t cry while reading.

FEED made me cry. Granted, I was in an elevated emotional state at the time, but I’m often in those states while reading, and that doesn’t mean I’ll cry.

Buffy’s death was a twist. George’s death was shocking. I mean, maybe I should have seen it coming, given Grant’s Whedon influence, but having one’s narrative voice die … you don’t expect it. And maybe I found myself identifying more with George than I thought. Because I respect the search for truth. I can’t tell you how much. I’m tired of spin, of fanaticism, of being content with what makes you comfortable. I want truth, and that was all George wanted, too, and she died because she looked a little too closely. God, that hurt so much, and it’s hurting now just thinking about it. It was the emotional debris after finishing the book that made me inspired to write a review and encourage anyone to read FEED.

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Final thoughts: FEED is now. FEED is gritty and intense and funny and cynical and sentimental and engaging, but more than that, it’s now. It’s a world inspired by the digital world, the political circus, the media circus, the fear-mongering, the technology of now. With zombies.

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