As a father of two, there is nothing more terrifying to me than the thought of something happening to my children. The zombie novel The Hand That Feeds plays on that fear. The book begins when a young boy gets infected with some weird, sticky black substance. His parents are poor, and choose to not bring him to the hospital, and have a friendly doctor give him a once over instead. As you can imagine, things go downhill fast and the boy dies and reanimates.
They quickly learn that their zombified son needs living flesh to carry on. They learn this when he takes out the doctor, and that’s when the ugly choice at the center of this novel comes in. Do they continue to “feed” their son, or do they face the facts and say goodbye? Well, it wouldn’t make much of a novel if they chose the latter, now would it?
I really love this conflict, because its incredibly creepy and it plays on your worst fears as a parent. You say you’d do anything for your kids, right? Are you prepared to take that far beyond the logical conclusion?
It becomes more complicated because the father and mother have different ideas of how far they’re willing to go, but the mother is clearly the leader of this family and gets her way by whatever means necessary. They bring victims back, but mess up the first one. That man is bitten, but escapes. You can probably imagine where that’s leading.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t stick with this creepy dilemma the whole time. About halfway through the story, the husband goes into town, and it turns into a pretty standard zombie survival yarn. It works well enough for a standard zombie story, but it was a step down from what the book had been doing to that point.
Thankfully, The Hand That Feeds returns to its central conflict for the last act, where things quickly spin out of control for everyone. Now, the parents need to not only feed their “son”, but also survive the onslaught of both zombies and the government response. As you can probably imagine, things don’t end too well.
I really liked The Hand That Feeds when it stuck to its unique take on zombie stories. It was unnerving and creepy and made you think about just how far you would go to protect your children. However, the book’s flaws occasionally pulled me out of the story. As mentioned, the zombie-survival adventure in the story’s second act felt like filler, but there were two other issues that really got to me. First, when their son was still alive, they chose to not take him to the hospital because they were worried about money. That’s just insane. Second, the overbearing wife was just a little too Lady MacBeth for my taste.
All told, The Hand That Feeds was a very interesting book, but the flaws took a lot of the bite out of it.