The basic synopsis of the book “The Changed” by B.J. Burrow? A zombie runs for US Senate. My first reaction? Worst. Idea. Ever.
Could this book, a darkly comic equal rights allegory about self aware-undead, actually not be the worst idea ever? I had to know.
The story starts out with a seemingly normal slice-of-life scene: A couple is having a picnic. There are few goofy lines of dialogue, as the couple flirts, anticipating a night of fourth-date intimacy. A few minutes later, a cow walks over and eats the guy’s face off.
Clearly, “The Changed” doesn’t play by the rules.
No one knows why, but one day everything stopped dying, at least in the old-fashioned, six-feet-under sense. People, animals, bugs — everything stopped dying, even in death. And, in most cases, the dead were completely aware of this fact.
One could argue that Burrow’s undead are not zombies, the same way some people argue that the infected in “28 Days Later” aren’t zombies — in the case of “28 Days Later,” the argument is that the “zombies” are not actually dead; in “The Changed” the “zombies” are very much dead, but have retained their mortal souls. They think, they talk, they get horny. Most are docile and eat eat regular food out of habit, but don’t eat the living. They also decompose, and even those who keep the undertaker in business by getting embalmed are ghouls in appearance. Not technically zombies — but Burrow doesn’t call them zombies. The word is tossed around, but it’s no less than a slur.
The people in the story all know the mythology. They know “Night of the Living Dead” and its cinematical descendants (George A. Romero himself makes a cameo of sorts, along with others such as Paula Deen and Elmo). Problem is, everything they thought they knew about the undead is wrong — and it goes well beyond self-awareness. This is where “The Changed” succeeds. You stop thinking about the break from traditional canon, because it’s fascinating, and because he does manage to get you to root for the undead. Burrow even manages a consensual undead/living sex scene that’s not revolting.
“The Changed” is rarely truly terrifying, but when it gets graphic, it’s pretty graphic. Just because many of these undead are quite human doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of violence and gore, or that, under certain circumstances, the undead aren’t monsters.
The US Senate race is one of several storylines, but it is a central one. It makes perfect sense in the context of the story. Clearly, the book doesn’t deal with typical politics: think Howard Stern running for Senate. As a zombie (sorry, as a Changed American). It’s actually not the worst idea ever, while you’re reading it.
As expected, “The Changed” offers quite a bit of social commentary. However, despite the fact that politics are involved and real American political parties are mentioned, don’t expect a heavy-handed partisan standpoint. There are some swipes at one party, but the other party doesn’t come off well, either — they all quickly cast off those who change. Religion is tackled as well, and, again, there are swipes at Christianity and its clergy, but one of the novel’s biggest heroes is a living Christian clergyman; another is “New Age” to the hilt. The biggest antagonists are those who fear the undead and would destroy them at will, and these characters don’t fit one particular social or political profile, other than being the vast majority of the living. An interesting read for sure.