Breathers: A Zombie's Lament
by S. G. Browne
Review by Colleen Cahill
Broadway Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780767930611
Date: 17 March 2009 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Horror and humor have been mixed before; Charlaine Harris and Jim Butcher have done this, adding a touch of romance to their works. Horror and social commentary have also been paired such as Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. But in S.C. Browne's Breathers, there is a mix of all three elements, blending in a way that all the emotions are touched; how many books on zombies can you say about that?
No one can say why Andy Warner became a zombie after his fatal car crash, unlike his wife who was also killed in the accident. Andy now finds himself in an interesting position: he is not alive nor can he even talk (his vocal cords were destroyed), but he is an animated and thinking corpse. He resides in his parents basement wine cellar, consuming formaldehyde "the magic elixir that slows decomposition to an almost imperceptible pace, enabling the undead to maintain some sense of pride."
Andy realizes he is in trouble when he wakes up to find his parents have been butchered and various parts stored in the refrigerator. While he has no memory of doing so, Andy knows he's done this horrible deed. It may not be totally surprising, especially when the story reveals how zombies are treated. The government gives no legal rights to the undead, and if not claimed by a living relative, a zombie can end up in a zoo or cut up for research. Society's reactions vary, from annoyed tolerance to active hatred and everything between, including groups that hunt down and destroy zombies just for fun.
Some of the undead try to adjust and Andy finds himself in an zombie support group, being told he is a survivor who is not alone. It is hard not to chuckle at the idea of an Undead Anonymous meeting, even as the deaths of the members are described. It is the elements of normalcy interspersed between the sad description of death and zombie existence that make this book so intriguing.
With no rights or really any reason to exist, days are long for Andy. It is the continuous abuse of the undead that eventually leads Andy to protest and even make the zombie plight a cause célèbre. He and a group of his friends also discover there is a really good reason why zombies will turn on living humans and attempt to eat them, something more than a craving for brains.
Browne has taken the theme of an oppressed group, but while his zombies are rational and still have emotions, there are complex issues here beyond giving respect and dignity to a minority. Zombies do want to kill and eat humans, making them a threat to the living. On one hand I feel for a being that is definitely receiving very unfair treatment, but on the other, I would not want a slowly decaying animated corpse in my house, especially if I might become its midnight snack.
It is the use of humor and irony in this book that kept me turning every page. It is hard to put down a book that made me go "ewww", "ack!" and "ha!", sometimes all in the same paragraph.
Breathers is definitely not an average horror novel, something that is humorous, horrific and enthralling all at once. On so many levels, I recommend this book to those wanting something more than just another horror story.