Daniel Waters: Generation Dead

I think the combination of the current young adult publishing climate and the packaging of Generation Dead do Daniel Waters’ novel a disservice.

For better or worse, in the wake of Twilight‘s success (not to mention Harry Potter’s, Buffy’s and the more explicit books of Hamilton’s, Harris’s, et al) there’s a lot of supernaturally-themed young adult fiction being published these days that shares many common attributes. These books generally use supernatural abilities as a metaphor for ordinary adolescent alienation. Many of them employ themes of humans consorting with the not-quite-human to deliver mildly illicit thrills (whether or not the characters actual consort). The overall vibe is generally escapist, with plot more prominent than theme or character development. (In fact, I think some of these books — although not the best of them — deliberately skimp on development of the viewpoint characters to increase the degree to which the intended audience can identify with the protagonists).

If you judge Generation Dead by its cover, I think you could be excused for thinking it’s one of these books:

two zombie-themed young adult novels

However, despite some common plot elements Generation Dead is a completely different sort of novel — more serious and more ambitious — and it’s hard to imagine someone looking for a Twilight-esque experience is going to be very satisfied. In fact, it’s a little hard for me to imagine many readers being completely satisfied by Generation Dead — its symbolism seems muddled, although that’s arguably deliberate, and the abrupt ending leaves many elements unresolved. The dénouement makes thematic sense, but it also feels a little as if it was chosen as an alternative to answering or addressing some of the questions the narrative raises.

But I definitely give Waters credit for trying something different, and I found his book interesting, if not completely successful. In Generation Dead some deceased teens rise again as zombies unlike virtually any other treatment of the undead I can think of. They shamble around, but they don’t rot or eat brains, and one of them even goes out for the football team. Waters plays a little with zombieness as metaphor for alienation, but he’s more interested in contrasting the zombies’ externally imposed alienation with the internally imposed alienation of teens in the goth/punk subculture. The social treatment of the undead (or in the novel’s politically correct phrase, “the differently biotic”) is also an extended metaphor for real world bigotry (and one perhaps best not too closely examined). Waters’ third-person omniscient voice delves deeply into the motivations of his human characters, including the nastiest, a memorably self-aware bully, while leaving the zombies oblique and mysterious.

Quibble: I think writing about counter-culture music credibly is something that writers from outside the culture can often best deal with by making up band names. Waters mostly acquits himself well, but the number of times Michale Graves (a.k.a. the singer for The Misfits who was neither Glenn Danzig nor Jerry Only) is mentioned suggests that Waters’ source on Graves’ prominence in the goth/horrorpunk/metal scene might have been an interview with Graves himself.

needs more demons? just a few.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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