"The Last Weekend" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Night Shade Books
Written by Nick Mamatas
2016, 252 pages, Fiction
Released on January 5th, 2016
Despite what you’ll hear from reviewers and excited readers in the next few weeks, Nick Mamatas has not reinvented the zombie novel with The Last Weekend; he has created a new subgenre that brings together the best elements of horror, noir, and literary fiction while simultaneously poking fun at those genres. As if that wasn’t enough, the novel also offers a narrative that’s as much about zombies as it is about exploring a deeply flawed character and the way society changed/stayed the same after the apocalypse.
Vasilis “Billy” Kostopolos used to be a sci-fi writer, which means he went to school for it for a bit and once had a short story published. The rest of his life revolved around drinking and failing to develop a successful relationship. Once the American zombie apocalypse hit, none of that really changed, except that Billy became a “driller” of reanimated corpses. The job is dangerous and full of gore, and Billy has to do it in post-apocalyptic San Francisco, a city full of crazy people. As an antidote to his failed career and depressing new job, Billy turns to booze, the one consistent element in his life. Between drilling the skulls of the recently dead/undead, writing (or at least thinking about it), and drinking, things seem to be in order. However, Billy soon finds himself involved with two women who have very peculiar ideas and instances of insanity and violence ensue. Then the “Big One” rattles the already devastated city and the secret under City Hall is exposed. What follows is a bizarre and very smart adventure that packs as much horror as it does humor.
The Last Weekend is an incredibly fun read. Mamatas plays around with the clichés of a variety of genres while also juggling the best of what every genre has to offer. This is a book about zombies, sure, but it’s also a sharp critique of patriarchy, a painfully honest deconstruction of authors and their discourse, an exploration of the geopolitical and socioeconomic realities of San Francisco (filtered through an apocalypse), and the kind of novel that drops bodies and curse words with the same ease it does philosophical discussions and names like Edward Said and Noam Chomsky. That probably sounds like a lot, but the narrative flows in a way that makes all the pieces fall into place.
There’s a humor here that will make careful readers smile constantly. If those readers, however, also happen to be writers, they might smile while cringing (complicated, true, but doable). Mamatas knows writing and authors. He also has a deep understanding of horror, noir, and thrillers. In The Last Weekend, he mixes them all and makes his main character a walking cliché: a sardonic, tortured artist who drinks too much and gets repeatedly kicked in the face by life. All important books are about writing, right? If the answer to that is yes, then this zombie novel is a crucial text that should be taught in school because it deals with (not) writing in marvelous ways and is as self-aware as any textbook:
There’s always a moment in a book when I cringe—it’s just at these moments when a writer recounting or contriving a scene has a choice. Did Alexa and I actually make love or is the event of physical coupling better handled by the Anglo-Saxon bark of fuck? Should the male gaze take it all in—Alexa’s stubbly cunt, her thick nipples too large for her small breasts, the ribs visible like wings? Or should we just move to afterwards when she shows me the gun—some 9mm of the sort cops generally have—and tells me that she salvaged the apartment the hard way.
While this is probably one of the smartest zombie novels out there, and the only one that takes to task the invariably dull work produced by heterosexual white males with MFAs living in New York, the fact remains that reading it is a lot of fun. Guns, violence, sex, hardcore boozing, and wonderful bursts of extreme gore come together to form a narrative that serious literature lovers can discuss with a thoughtful look on their face and genre freaks can enjoy the way they enjoy all things pulp. Here’s a taste of it as Billy tries to bring down an old lady revenant who’s swinging from a rope:
I ran to the middle of the room, scattering cats, and then grabbed the woman’s legs. I pulled my knees up and left the ground. I wrapped my limbs around hers, clinging like a monkey. For a few seconds I swung and hoped that the rope was stronger than the rot in the sternocleidomastoid muscle, and –lo, verily!—it was. My ass slammed to the floor and her body followed, cold but fast. Her head hit separately, and bounced once, leaving a splat of grue that I accidentally put my hand in as I slid out from under her torso.
The Last Weekend is a wild, sharp, booze-soaked trip that navigates Billy’s past and present while showing that there’s still new terrain to conquer when it comes to post-apocalyptic novels. This is a book all zombie lovers should pick up, and one that will make a lot of writers think awful things about its author.