Review of “Loose Ends” by Jay Wilburn
Loose Ends by Jay Wilburn is a bit different style zombie apocalypse tale for several reasons, the main being the characters that inhabit this particular world. We are introduced to our main character, Mutt, a fifteen year old boy who also happens to be mute. He is hiding from a zombie pounding on the door of the panic room he has been in for a couple of days when the story starts. The compound he’s lived in for most of the time since the dead rose up (about a decade) appears to be several buildings that have been connected and has been the dwelling place for a decent sized group of people. Over the years, it has suffered attacks from zombies and humans alike, but the tenants have always persevered. Not this time. The only survivors are Mutt and the three men he works with in the kitchens: Chef, Short Order, and Doc. Naturally, just like with Mutt, these are nicknames, but the reader isn’t provided real names of the characters until we are well into the story. After cooking a few last meals and competing with one another to see who can outdo the others in taste and extravagance, they decide that it is time to hit the road, and find a new home.
The wide world is a dangerous, depraved place, with not only the biker types that assaulted them (along with the undead) this last time out there, but numerous other tribes of survivors that range from the deadly to the demented. Mainly what our team of travelers finds at first is the undead. They set out with their modified truck filled with supplies with the hopes of discovering a new and safe home-but they go in the direction that some of the men know and remember, and might not be their safest bet. We get to know the characters better on their journey of attempting to one up one another in their cooking of meals they scrounge out in the wild. Details are revealed about each of them, including their real names and their past. Mutt too reveals more about himself and the brief childhood he had before it was torn apart by the undead. Some of what is revealed seems almost better off remaining buried, with tragedies from the past that are hard to deal with, even after ten years of living with the undead.
Loose Ends definitely takes a different approach to introducing and revealing its characters. These men are tightly bonded to one another, and the fact that Mutt is unable to speak allows their stories to be told with little interference from him, though it all through his eyes, including some very disturbing things. While these three men are friends who protect and take care of Mutt (Doc especially, who Mutt is apprenticed to) they also have conflicts that stem from the fact that they are out of the safe and neutral environment of the compound and back out on the road traveling through the places where they are given the chance to revisit their pasts.
This book is not just a character study, it is a zombie apocalypse actioner, with plenty of scenes filled with harrowing attacks and attempted assaults of the small crew of survivors. I am a fan of fully developed characters and human conflict that arises in apocalyptic tales-revealing the truth that is forced to come to the surface because of the harsh realities that surround the people trying to survive-and this tale definitely delivers that. But I also love action and the horror that comes from the unrelenting nature of the undead, and Loose Ends delivers in that respect as well.
As far as the negatives with this story, as there are with every tale, it was my reaction to the beginning and something that happens not too far in that I had issue with. I have a pet peeve about perspectives, and committing to the perspective chosen. The author tells this story in first person, through Mutt’s eyes, and true to that, we never see anything from someone else. But the author decides to bend the rules a bit and allows Mutt to imagine, in great detail, what is going on somewhere else. Imagining what is going on isn’t a big deal, unless it reads like a very detailed and factual part of the story. It felt forced here, but thankfully it is only a brief part of the story. It does, however, happen very early on, which made me a bit fearful that it would crop up on a regular basis. Thankfully this is not the case, and after another very minor dip into doing this again, the author leaves this behind and lets Mutts true perspective lead the way.
Overall, the storytelling here is solid. Mutt lacks a voice but his ability to see what is going on around him and relate it to the reader adds a distinct flavor to the tale. He both fears and relies on the men he is traveling with, in particular Doc, who he shares several harrowing adventures with and yet distrusts in many ways. Mutt is not passive-he is an active participant in choosing his own destiny, which makes the story all the more satisfying.
Loose Ends tells the story of three men and a boy who all have issues from their past and have different levels of desire to confront these issues under the guise of searching for a new place to call home. Some want to lay them to rest while others appear to be more interest in ripping open old wounds and remembering the darkness. It is an interesting journey that I’m glad I tagged along for.