Review of Joseph Souza’s “The Reawakening”
The Reawakening begins with the narrator, Thom Swiftley, a famous novelist, taking his seventeen year old daughter, Dar, up from their Boston home to his brother’s farm in northern Maine. Rick, his brother, was a highly respected geneticist who decided to leave his prestigious career behind to get away from the rat race to grow crops and milk cows, or so it seems. Dar has suffered from numerous mental issues in her life, and has been suicidal throughout much of her teenage years. Thom thinks it would be a good idea for her to see her uncle and favorite aunt before she goes off to college.
Almost immediately things start going wrong on the farm. The cows are acting strange, and so are the birds. Fearing Mad Cow Disease, Rick puts the cows down with his rifle, only to find them back up and trying to kick their way out of their stalls. Rick’s dog has gone mad as well, and so have the pigs. When Rick’s wife gets bitten by one of the cows, she gets a fever, dies, and transforms into some sort of hybrid creature. But before she does that, right after she dies, she speaks of an afterlife and the goal of finding the chosen ones.
More mayhem ensues and when Thom and Dar try to leave the farm, things go even worse for them when she is assaulted at a general store ten minutes from the farm and they have to return. By now, they realize that people are turning into flesh eating monsters (those that are bitten by animals take on some genetic characteristics of the animals that bit them, while those who die in a ‘normal’ fashion become the more traditional slow moving zombies). Rick dives into the mystery of how this happens with scientific zeal as they stay tucked away, safe on the barricaded farm. They are joined by others: one of Rick’s neighbor’s family and a passing biker named Thorn.
The sudden and abrupt changes happening to everything around them transforms Dar dramatically. In particular, the assault she is forced to endure at the general store is the seeming catalyst to a total mutation in personality. It almost seemed as if everyone who has been bitten or dies has reawakened into something different, but even though she hasn’t been bitten, she has been altered as well: into a hate machine. She not only hates the reawakened monsters, but everyone and everything, including her father, who she blames for her life up to this point.
This tale is an intriguing variation on the traditional zombie apocalypse storyline, with the transformed becoming something significantly different than the zombies we have come to know and fear. I am always up for a different approach to the formula, and this one certainly veers in a different direction than you might expect. The mystery here is whether this transformation is genetic, which Rick adheres to or if the transformation is more of a supernatural process, given how the undead initially react before becoming ravenous flesh eaters, as Thom suspects. The brother’s clash on this subject endlessly, as well as on other topics.
Fair warning: this book does not provide the reader with much in the way of characters to identify with or root for. I found it difficult to have much sympathy for anyone but a couple of secondary characters given how everyone seems to transform into loathsome people as things got worse around them. This applies in particular to Dar, whose transformation into a kick-butt undead slayer brought with it a lot of hate, spite, and anger. Essentially, a suicidal teenager unleashes the hatred she had for herself onto the entire world. Not just on those who have been reawakened, but everyone who is still alive. And somehow everyone seems to willingly accept her abuse without question and meekly follow her lead. That her father falls in line with how she acts and Rick, his brother, seems to encourage her ravenous lust for destruction of the undead, are only part of the reasons why I found both of those characters repugnant. Thom is a wimp and Rick has plenty of even more despicable traits.
While this commentary may seem like harsh criticism of the book, it isn’t. Loathsome characters are often some of the most interesting ones in literature. I did feel that Dar’s transformation seemed a bit over the top, thought it becomes more plausible given the environment she resides in throughout the book: with a bunch of people unwilling to say or do anything to stop her-especially her father. Given how much of a spineless cur he was, it made what she became a bit more believable. Still, her transformation seemed extreme, especially given the fact that everyone seemed more than willing to follow this eighteen-year-old’s lead into danger.
Overall, this was an intriguing tale, with a wild new slant on the undead apocalypse. There are some interesting twists and turns and since this is only the first of a planned trilogy, there are naturally quite a few loose ends left unraveled. It will be interesting to see where things go from here for Thom, Dar, and the survivors.