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Dead decay along with story in ‘Dust’

My right arm fell off today. Lucky for me, I’m left-handed.

With a first line like that, “Dust” by Joan Frances Turner should have been one barnburner of a zombie novel.

But it’s not.

Jessie’s part of the undead gang the Fly-by-Nights. She was killed in a car crash, along with her parents, nine years ago at age 15, leaving behind a brother and sister. After she clawed her way out of her grave she was jumped into the gang, brutally.

Over the years, she has formed bonds with the other members. There’s the dusty Florian, the oldest of the group, near death as his remains dry out. And her friend Linc, a bloater, whose body has expanded from gasses. And her love interest Joe, a feeder, whose presence always is foreshadowed by the noise of the bugs eating his decaying flesh.

The undead can’t talk because of their collapsed palates and missing tongues, but they do have a sort of brain radio that enables them to communicate telepathically. And not all the zombies eat humans. Jessie prefers hunting game. She really has absolutely no use for humans, or hoos, as the undead call them.

Jessie becomes fairly comfortable hunting and hanging with her gang. But when a new virus seems to be strengthening the dead and weakening the living, her world turns upside down. She’s even more shaken when she finds out her hoo siblings have been looking for her.

What makes “Dust” intriguing is that it’s told from the zombie’s perspective. But the novel’s protagonist, Jessie, isn’t very likable — at all. Her dead boyfriend, Joe, is a bullying jerk, but she takes it. And when her siblings are introduced into the story line, she seems to have no connection or love left for them at all. She hates hoos, even if they are related. The siblings themselves are completely underdeveloped, leaving the reader apathetic toward their roles in the story. Jessie could eat them for all the reader would care, maybe that would have been more interesting.

The writing itself is a bit clunky, causing the reader to stumble through sentences. And even for someone with a great ability to suspend disbelief, it’s simply implausible that the country, during a long-term zombie outbreak, would allow people to bury their dead instead of cremating, knowing they will rise and possibly become dangerous. Perhaps that’s applying logic where it doesn’t belong, but seriously.

In the end, “Dust” probably will appeal only to die-hard zombie fans and readers who love gore — oh, and there is gore galore. But those who choose to walk the path of decay with Jessie, be warned: There’s a sequel — and you might just prefer the dead stay dead after reading “Dust.”

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