Most zombie survival stories tend to be about people who are either completely unprepared, or ludicrously over-prepared (these are generally military-themed zombie stories). The unprepared tend to be people from the suburbs with little to no survival or self-defense know-how. It’s no secret why this is; it’s pretty easy to spin drama out of people who are completely out of their element and trying to survive against all odds. The more incompetent they are, the easier it gets to write.
Telling a story about people who know quite a bit about keeping themselves alive, without going overboard, is tougher to pull off. The Longest Road addresses this challenge head-on, and handles it with aplomb.
The story begins on a Thanksgiving hunting trip, and the whole family is there. Of course, not a whole lot of that family makes it out. After the zombies show up, only a handful of cousins manage to make their escape in an RV. From there, they make their way across country, looking for some semblance of safety and normalcy.
Being young, it’s a challenge for them to stay on task twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There’s a lot of down time, including drinking, pot, and lots and lots of video games (one of the nicer parts of having an RV with a full entertainment suite and solar panels to help with fuel efficiency). As they make their way west, with no real plan of action, the day to day grind starts to weigh more and more heavily on them, and each handles this pressure in different ways. I found this to be the greatest strength of The Longest Road. Sure, these guys have been given a leg up with plenty of know-how and lots of great gear, but survival is a mental game before anything else, and it comes through well here.
That said, the book does have some flaws, the biggest is with the supporting characters. While the cousins are all distinct, everyone else they come across – with a couple of exceptions – are caricatures. For instance, early on they team up with another group of survivors, and these guys are your typical white trash idiots. They seem to act more according to stereotype than an reason grounded in their characters, which was more than a little frustrating.
And when you compare them with the cousins, you run the very real risk of making the protagonists look too good. Next to these losers, the cousins don’t really seems to be up against much. It becomes a little harder to root for them when they’re just so much better than everyone else.
The same problem happens with antagonists. There’s not a lot of gray area in The Longest Road. The cousins are in-equivocally good, and the bad guys are completely evil. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the author tries to add a bit of motivation here, but I didn’t feel like it was enough to explain the villains’ actions.
Despite my complaints, I very much enjoyed The Longest Road. It’s a quick, fun read with lots of action, and the action is very well written.
Spell Check, Second sentence:
“With little to know survival”
Oh, and, it seems like it might be an okay read. Even though I’ve never really been the biggest fan when it comes to a lack of grey area. The grey area is where a lot of great conflict comes into play. It’s best to see the good guys in the grey area as “We tried our damned hardest, we fucked up.. But we tried”. Because even bad people do good things for whatever reasons, and some times good people do bad things in hopes that they were doing something good.
I really did enjoy the book, but the black and whiteness bugged me. You’re right, having shades of gray makes both the good guys and the bad guys more compelling.
Oh, good catch Calicade. Fixed.
Dave, thanks for the great review, I’m glad you enjoyed the read and I really enjoyed hearing about your criticisms! Calicade, I completely agree with your statement regarding a grey area- that’s when true colors are shown, the drama is intense and in any given situation the unexpected can happen. When it comes to a grey area I can say with confidence that the sequel “The Change” hits it head on. Thanks for the discussion!
My pleasure AS. I hope I get a chance to read The Change soon (damn reading backlog).