Based on an author’s (or narrator’s?) post in a Goodreads group, I tried out the sample available of this book on Audible, liked what I heard, and threw caution to the wind and bought it. It is an interesting slant on the ground AMC trod this summer with Fear the Walking Dead: the very beginning of a zombie apocalypse, as people are still standing and watching creatures who used to be friends and family shambling closer and closer, wondering why cousin Jimmy is so pale, and why is he growling … The Undead in this universe were fast and loud and persistent, and I liked that.
Unfortunately, that’s about all I liked.
I didn’t much care for any of the characters. One main character, the lawyer Sampson, fluctuates between Slimy Lawyer and Put Upon Nice Guy, to the point that I was uncomfortable when another main character who was a teenaged girl met up with him; I kept expecting the scumbag to re-emerge. I will say all the characters were something more than cardboard … it’s just that what they were instead was inconsistent and, unfortunately, ultimately unlikeable. Also, not entirely believable: the level of bickering in the middle of a world-ending crisis might, sadly, have been realistic, but it was incredibly annoying to read – – and, also, I find it hard to believe that, coming upon a CVS that had gone unlooted (which is highly improbable, security gate or no security gate), our heroes not only stock up on water and power bars and lighter fluid but … deodorants. And then a while later use up most if not all of that incredibly valuable lighter fluid on something really stupid for which they could have used any number of other accelerants.
I’ll come back to the characters.
The narration had some high highs and low lows. The voice of the narrator and those used for male character voices were mostly fine, though it was a little interesting that two of the three black men in the cast of characters were pretty much identical. The women, though … *shudder* In the book, the women, excepting teenaged heroine Veronica, are at best worthless, at worst “batshit crazy” and overall really horrendous. In the narration, they’re the epitome of cliché gay caricature voice – terrible.
The language periodically made me twitch: “the people her and her brother had stumbled upon”, for example. And the constant use of “lie” as the past tense for … “lie”. I thought it was “lied”, which made me see faintly red, but I checked Google Books: nope. Bodies lie about, little islands of present tense in the midst of a past tense book. (Along with “squat” as the past tense for “squat”.) A few actions like a man placing a bag on his back are described with such gravity and emphasis that they should be significant. (They aren’t.) And things like “Ben shared a laugh with himself”, or someone’s “happy hands”…? No.
Another bit I didn’t much like was what seems to be a nastily right-wing stance (referring to the uber-bitch Juliette as a spoiled liberal – which, no).
Going back to that CVS: First of all, CVS in Florida carries booze? Huh. Anyway. The store was described as having no other door than the front entrance. I find it hard to believe there’s any public building without a back door, for trash removal and to comply with fire codes if nothing else.
The car name-dropping gets old; I’m not sure why we need to know exactly what everyone drives, except to make occasional points about some characters’ wealth and so on.
The cuts in the narrative are sometimes abrupt and confusing – going from talking about Sampson and Moira to a new chapter (hard to distinguish in an audiobook) and “they all” in the first sentence – but here “they” refers to Abe and company; later, a shift in the other direction, from Abe & co to Sampson.
One thing I have to give some credit to the author for: the tale of what happened to Al. It was, at first, nicely handled – by which I mean the story was withheld and and evaded for quite a while, which I at first found irritating but came to appreciate as – at first – a nice bit of storytelling, good suspense-building. However, it stretched out too long, to the point that when some (never all) of the details finally came out I had already pretty much figured out what happened and didn’t need to be told. There were a few near misses like that in the storytelling – and inconsistencies, such as Veronica telling the story of how her father was attacked – but not as the father told it. She was not there; she has only what her father related to her. Where did the new details in her version come from?
I wanted to continue liking the book. I would have loved to like it more than the afore-mentioned Fear the Walking Dead, about which I was kind of lukewarm. But “Breadwinner” didn’t suffer from comparison – it just suffered from its execution. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had cause to bless Audible’s return policy … I wish it would be the last.