"Apocalypse Yesterday" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Crooked Lane Books
Written by Brock Adams
2020, 280 pages, Fiction
Released on 8th September, 2020
Down the years I have read a substantial number of zombie novels and it would be fair to say that comedies in this subgenre are difficult beasts to pull off. Wracking my brains, I have struggled to recall one single example which was laugh-out-loud funny and although Apocalypse Yesterday had me chuckling, it is more offbeat than hilarious. Perhaps the zombie comedy works better on screen than in book form? Afterall, Apocalpyse Yesterday does slightly recall the highly stylised entertainment of the likes of Zombieland. Whatever your opinion, this quirky attempt certainly has its moments and raises a few smiles.
The backbone of the story is very clever and if you are of the opinion that the zombie story has been rehashed to death (I would not blame you), Apocalypse Yesterday does bring a genuinely fresh twist to the table. However, it is let down by its execution, and a muddled story told over two very similar time periods, which is not a great recipe for comedy. The story starts some months after the end of a zombie apocalypse; the main character, Rip, is in a fast-food restaurant and is told by management that if he wants to enjoy his meal he must put away his machete (which he calls ‘Santana’), as it is making the other guests uncomfortable. This is the crux of the story: Rip genuinely misses the recently-concluded zombie apocalypse and the humorous take of Apocalypse Yesterday is built around his longing for the ‘good old days’. If he were to go to work without Santana, that would truly signify that the boring old humdrum world of a 9-5 working day is back to stay. As he works in an office, the idea of swaggering to his desk with Santana attached to his hip did make me chuckle! The Walking Dead’s Negan had ‘Lucille’ the barbed wire baseball bat, so why not a machete?
The two time periods the story is told in are between one and two years apart, with the apocalypse lasting about six months before mankind triumphed over the dead. The flashback period is much stronger (and funnier) than the latter taking us back to when Rip encounters and kills his first zombie in a supermarket and then a few neighbours, including a kid. He amusingly credits Ving Rhames and the Dawn of the Dead remake for his survival and the book is loaded with entertaining pop-culture references. However, to the knowledgeable horror fan, it is also inconsistent. Most of the zombies are portrayed as very slow (original Romero style), but there are also faster undead:
Fast. I forgot how fast they are. Not like the George Romero slouchers; they’re 28 Days later sprinters. This zombie is quicker and stronger than the man could have been in real life.
In the present-day story, Rip’s life is rubbish and spends his time working a job he hates in a Florida call centre responding to customer complaints. He really loathes his job. Rip fails to see the relevance of emails bitching about whether the contents of a carton of Pringles is broken, when a few months earlier he was swinging Santana, killing zombies by the dozen and loving it. This is an important element of the story: Rip is very good at killing zombies, but in the recovered America he is a nobody and has failed to reacclimatise to his old life. This is a great idea to build an offbeat comedy around, but it lacks a magic spark which would have made it truly great; perhaps the zombie apocalypse lacks detail or the reader is unconvinced why Rip missed it so much? Okay, he met a cool woman, defended the Lazy River Waterpark and got super-macho, but apart from that, his rationale does not particularly convince. Neither is Rip a hero, in fact, he comes across as both irritating and self-centred, especially as he dreams of restarting the apocalypse, which is the main thrust of the present-day story. Some of the support characters, particularly in the aftermath storyline, are also rather bland and sketchily drawn rather than funny.
This is not a book to be taken seriously and ultimately much of it is very stupid, but it does have more than its fair share of very funny moments. Here is one of my favourites featuring a zombie Donald Trump:
And then there’s Trump. Zombie Trump trudging across the green in his presidential pyjamas. He looks around, bewildered. He stops at the hole and touches the flag. He says ‘uuuurg?’ And from off-screen comes the sound of a gunshot, and then blood is coming out of his head and he falls. A Secret Service guy comes on-screen and walks up to the body. He fires fourteen more times, empties all the bullets into the zombie president’s motionless body. He looks up smiling, and then he sees the cameraman. ‘Aw, shit’ he says, and he makes the cutting motion, hand across his neck. The blue screen comes back, and then there’s nothing else.
If you are after some light relief, then Apocalypse Yesterday has some laughs and might have you asking about what you might do in a similar situation. As kids, many of us dreamed about this sort of thing happening all the time. Would you hunker down and hide or embrace the destruction head on? Would you be destined to become a leader ala ‘Rick Grimes’ from The Walking Dead? Or are you more of a reluctant survivor, in the style of ‘Columbus’ from Zombieland? The great Bill Murray also appears in Zombieland, it is worth noting that in Apocalypse Yesterday we are treated to a brief appearance from Jack Nicholson!
Zombie comedies are a tricky beast to get right and even though some of Apocalypse Yesterday misfires, it is still a commendable attempt. Interestingly, most of the most successful examples I have come across lean into the realms of YA, such as Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, Paulo Bacigalupi’s Zombie Baseball Beatdown, Hilary McKay’s Undead series, or Jeff Hart’s Eat Brains Love. I am sure there are adult examples out there, but they do seem to be in short supply. This was a very quirky novel in which some of the individual sequences are probably stronger than the overall final product. For example, I laughed when Rip had killed his first few zombies and was suddenly s**ting himself in case he was wrong and would be accused of murder. Being proved correct came as relief!
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