BOOK: Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeline Roux (2011)

I really wanted to like this novel — I mean, a story about a group of book lovers trapped by zombies HAS to be fun, right?

But though I found it entertaining enough overall, especially in the beginning, it took a turn for the boring and befuddled somewhere around the midpoint, and I found myself increasingly frustrated by the author’s lack of thoughtful use of the story’s primary gimmick:  the book is a collection of blog posts, complete with comments from “readers,” and I really feel like Roux wasted an opportunity to do something truly interesting with that set-up.  More on that in a bit.

Here’s how the story goes:  Allison Hewitt is one of a group of bookstore employees recently trapped together by the zombie apocalypse.  Luckily, she’s trapped with a still-functional laptop and a working wi-fi network, and she immediately starts to blog her situation to anybody who might still be alive out there in the world.

As supplies begin to run low and morale collapses (no bathrooms and a steady diet of break-room beef jerky will do that for you), Allison manages to convince a couple of her colleagues to join her in a quest to get to the apartments above the store and see if any of them are habitable.  She grabs a fire axe, the others grabbing baseball bats and fire extinguishers, and together, they burst out into the store, whacking zombie heads left and right, and scramble upstairs.  (The zombie fight scenes are a little “been there, done that,” I’ll grant you, but still fun.)

After some exploration, they decide the group’s gotta move in.   They can’t stay in the break-room — the time for panic has passed, they’re alive and likely to stay that way if they’re careful, and it’s time to move forward.  The group takes over two apartments and tries settling down into a more manageable life.  But when Allison discovers a broadcasting radio station, the gang decides the next step is to leave the building altogether and try to make it over to the university campus — where the broadcast is coming from and where, the broadcaster reports, a large group of survivors have begin to collect.

Maybe Allison’s mother is there, you see?  Maybe Phil’s family.  They can’t ignore the possibility, so they set out with what little supplies they have left in pursuit of a larger community.

Most of the group manages to make it to campus safely, but that’s where the story starts to fall apart.  There’s a bizarre plot twist involving a group of fanatically religious women who kidnap and torture Allison and her friends; a boring, boring, borrrrrring love story between Allison and an astronomy professor; and a gang of militant survivors trying to force themselves into power, shooting anybody who dares challenge their authority.

Most of the second half of the book is an absolute mess, with a lot of inconsistencies in the story and subplots I feel like I’ve seen/read a million times already in both the zombie and post-apocalyptic genres.  That might’ve been okay, though, were it not for my increasing frustration over the blog format.

The problem was that I felt Roux could’ve done more with that device, and I was annoyed that she wasn’t bothering.   Despite the fact it made little sense Allison was able to keep a laptop running AND access a still-operational wi-fi network (whatever — I was willing to roll with it), when I first realized Roux was going to include comments from readers, I got a little bit excited.  I was expecting a whole second storyline to develop in the comments section, as people chimed in from all over, swapping stories and advice, starting flame wars from all the stress and anxiety, forming relationships between themselves and with Allison, etc.  All the stuff that typically DOES happen in a blog comment section (hi, guys!).  At the very least, I was expecting more emotionally charged content and question-asking.  What’s going on?  My god, I just had to kill my own mother.  That sort of thing.

Instead, there are only a couple of comments per “post,” and most of them are totally vacuous (Keep fighting, Allison!  Hey, we’re on a boat, tra la!).  Disappointing.  Occasionally, Roux tried to shove in an incongruously-timed comment from a reader suddenly logging on to despair, and once there was a father posting about his infected son, but none of these comments were particularly emotionally evocative, in part because the replies to them from Allison and other “readers” were usually bizarrely cavalier and quick.  Instead of exploring what that father might be going through, for example, Allison just says something flip like, “He’s not your son anymore — kill him!”

Man, great opportunity wasted to explore some of the painful, personal side of the whole end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it thing, instead of just the gleeful zombie-killing adventure side (which is mostly what this novel deals with — nobody seems to think twice about killing anybody in this book, even zombies they recognize, which I just found strange, though that’s not uncommon in the genre, really).

One positive note:  I did like the fact each blog post/chapter’s name was a relevant book title (In Defense of Food, A Room with a View, Things Fall Apart, e.g.) — clever, but not enough to save this novel from its thorough lack of originality.   That was what the format needed, and failed, to do.

Overall, I’d say this one’s definitely worth picking up if you’re in the mood for something brainless (pun intended) and fun, but while I did find it entertaining (I read the whole thing, after all), after reading the excerpt from Roux’s upcoming second novel (included at the end of this book), I don’t think I’ll be going on from here.

Fooey.

[FICTION, HORROR]

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2 Responses to “BOOK: Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeline Roux (2011)”

  1. Liz Says:

    I think “phooey” is a very articulate and valid response to your opinions about this book. (I spell it with a “ph” – don’t ask me why, I just like to!)

    I have a GOOD IDEA: you write blog entries about the story of your choice, and we, your loyal readers, will contribute FICTIONAL, but much more entertaining and insightful comments. Then you can publish your “book,” thank your readers for their “invaluable” input, and come away with a much better product than this book you’ve reviewed. I think this blog makes for very enjoyable reading, anyway, and creates a nice sense of community!

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