Monday, February 27, 2012

The Reapers Are the Angels, a Review

Oh my. You know that feeling you have when you're reading a good book, and as you're reading you try to put it out of your mind that the page count is dwindling and the text is going to run out soon and you try to slow down and savor the last few pages but you can't, because you just gotta know what happens? And then you finish and you're slightly hollow and realize that two days have now passed and you can't stop thinking about the book and what exactly did happen. You give it to your spouse and force her to read it so you can discuss it with somebody, and then you pester and question her as she does.  You find yourself speaking with an accent to mimic the protagonist, whether its appropriate or not. You are, in essence, haunted.  You know that feeling?

Alden Bell's The Reapers Are the Angels had this affect on me. It generated quite a bit of buzz when it came out, back in 2010, and several of the genre bloggers I follow recommended it as a good read. I shelved it and moved along until just recently, where I decided (on a whim) to read it and knock another book off the 2012 Manifesto. Again: oh my. The Reapers Are the Angels is a post-apocalyptic zombie tale that's not really about the zombies or the state of the world. It's a story about a girl named Temple, fifteen and incredibly resilient, struggling to survive in the "now" and reconcile the choices she's made in the "past." The world changed twenty-five years ago, so Temple has little knowledge of how things were back then, and she gains most of that knowledge from fellow survivors or tossed-out magazines. 

Temple's voice was what propelled this book for me. She's smart, flawed, sassy, and funny, but she's got a depth to her that stays hidden from anyone with a brain. She's made mistakes and regrets them every day, and yet she's not up-front about it, not even to herself, and thus not to the Reader, either. Temple spends her days traveling around the country, living mostly alone for much of the time. After she makes an enemy of a man named Moses Todd in a survivor's town, though, she spends the rest of the book on the run, waiting for their inevitable meeting.
"She leaves him sitting there, glancing back just once before she goes through the stairwell door and observing how the cloud of smoke from his cigar gets pulled in wisps out the dark gaping hole in the glass wall--as though it is his soul, too large for his massive frame and seeping out the pores of his skin and wandering circuitous back into the wilderness where it knows itself true among the violent and the dead."(p35)
Interestingly, The Reapers Are the Angels is toted as a Southern Gothic type tale, in the vein of Flannery O'Connor or Cormac McCarthy. Like McCarthy, Bell adopts a different method for presenting the story, eschewing quotation marks and atypical punctuation. This simplicity adds to the feel of a post-world (just like it did with The Road), though it can get confusing, as one may not know whether or not a character is speaking or if we're reading Temple's thoughts. Nevertheless, I didn't find it too much of a distraction to ever get lost. Similarly, Bell reveals much of the story by revealing little, that is, he's quite sparse with his prose. There are times when he waxes on the beauty of the stars or a river or something, but it always seems to fit the moment and what Temple would be thinking. Other times there's very little description and even less action/resolution, but again, it seems fitting.

Despite my glowing reaction to the story, there were a few problems evident.  Most notably was Bell's odd word choices, as if he relied heavily on a thesaurus to put a little purple into the prose from time to time.  I didn't notice this too much, but Keisha pointed it out as one of the big issues she had with the book.  This is directly related to my biggest issue, that being that I thought Temple was a bit unbalanced as a character.  The girl is incredibly skillful and incredibly dangerous, having the resilience to not only survive in the dead world, but to survive well.  And yet, despite her obvious intelligence, she was illiterate.  This really served no purpose to the book, and in fact extended too far out of my willingness to suspend disbelief.  This wouldn't have been as noticeable if she didn't wax poetical whenever she was moved.

Alden Bell's book was an absolute pleasure to read. It's one part Western, with a vengeance story driving much of the plot, but it's also much more than that. The zombies are different than other zombies that I've read. Heck, the post-world is different than other imagined futures. Temple was a fascinating character to explore, and I loved her rhymes & reasons for life and God and the rest of the world. If you're looking for a short (225 pages) and addictive read, then let me suggest The Reapers Are the Angels. It never crossed the line into horror, but it camped close to the edge, proffering room for a vivid imagination to take the story and run. It's a book about a girl with questions and guilt, a girl that wonders about what it means to be human. It's a fast-paced book with some small hang-ups, but it's one that I strongly recommend.


leslie said...

nice review.

a short read, eh? I have a few people in mind for this one. so I will passing this review around.

~L (omphaloskepsis)

David Wagner said...

Hmm... I suppose I shall respond the way I normally do upon reading a review of yours... time to grab a free sample from Amazon! Woohoo!


logankstewart said...

@L: Yep, quite short, quite difficult to put down.

@Dave: Ha! Thanks. Enjoy the preview.

Kay said...

i just finished this and agree with everything you said,,,in fact it is the only book ever that i have finished and immediately started at the beginning again..

logankstewart said...

@Kay: Oh yes, I can see that. There is so much from this story that I still think fondly on. In fact, Mr. Bell recently announced that he's writing another novel set in this world, this one taking place before the events of Reapers and focusing on Moses and Abraham Todd. Should be fascinating. Thanks for stopping by!