Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory; Del Ray ; 2011; 448 pgs; $15.00 US

“The math is scary . . . In three days all the humans are dead or turned into walking dead.”

On April 28, 2010, the Big Bite happened.  The world as we know it ended.  The zombie apocalypse began.  It’s the typical beginning to a typical zombie novel, but Raising Stony Mayhall is not your typical zombie novel.

The first outbreak occurred in 1968 in a small town in Pennsylvania (you may have seen Romero’s documentary).  Also that year, a woman was found, by the side of the road in Easterly, Iowa, dead, and clutching a newborn against the Midwestern winter.  When Wanda Mayhall checks the baby’s pulse, he has none.  He is not breathing, and he’s as cold as the night around him.  But then the baby’s eyes open.  Wanda knows what he is, and she knows what the government will do to him when they find him.  LDs (the living dead) are shot, then burned.  So she does what any Midwestern mother of three girls would do: she takes the baby home and raises him as her own.

And that’s what makes Raising Stony Mayhall different from any zombie novel ever written.  It’s not about what happens after the apocalypse.  It’s about what happens before it.

Stony grows up—and that’s his first miracle, he grows—surrounded by family and the neighbor boy, his best—and only—friend, Kwang.  He is kept to the house, the basement, and sheltered from the world around him.  But, just as all his sisters begin leaving home and his best friend is about to leave for college, an emergency forces Stony from hiding, and he discovers that—contrary to what he’s been taught—he’s not the only LD around.

Taken into the care of a couple of zombie mercenaries, Stony joins the political debate and pending civil war.  The zombie numbers have been decimated by the government, and the fear of possible extinction has forced them to take sides.  On one, the Big Biters want to start the apocalypse that will end the humans and leave everyone either dead or LD, and on the other, more moderate groups search for a balance and a way to survive without taking such extreme measures.

When the zombie civil war breaks out, Stony stops the first Big Bite attempt, and is killed.  It’s his second miracle that he rises again (again).  Placed in a government prison, Stony becomes something of a religious figure.  Somewhere between Nelson Mandela and Jesus.  His eventual escape from prison becomes his third miracle.

Raising Stony Mayhall is a taut novel full of twist and turns, but more than that it’s a novel full of characters and emotions, politics and prejudices.  It’s a novel that makes the reader question what it is to be human.  Like the best speculative fiction, Raising Stony Mayhall teaches the reader about humanity, human nature, but it is never preachy—and never boring.

Throughout the furious final chapters, as the apocalypse rages, Gregory makes the reader empathize with both sides, humans and zombies, and in doing so creates a climax that won’t soon be forgotten.  Stony’s fourth miracle is his greatest of all.

Like his award-winning previous novels, Pandemonium and The Devil’s Alphabet, Raising Stony Mayhall is a simply written yet complex novel that is sure to linger in the thoughts of its readers long after the book is finished and set aside.  And sure to garner Gregory a slew of new readers, win him some more awards, and raise the bar for all zombie and speculative literature to come.

Jun 10, 2011

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