As you know, Bob, I’ve recently started to review a few books for Locus magazine. Not everything I review, though, makes it into the magazine. Case in point: Nick Mamatas’s zombie novel, The Last Weekend, which I greatly enjoyed but which was originally published a couple of years ago–and reviewed in Locus at the time by the estimable Tim Pratt. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that it’s a fine novel that deserves a look. Here’s what I had to say about it:
The Last Weekend, Nick Mamatas (Night Shade Books 9781597808422, $15.99, 244 pp, tpb)
Billy Kostopolis, the narrator-protagonist of Nick Mamatas’s innovative, gripping The Last Weekend, deals with monsters, specifically, zombies. When a resident of San Francisco sights one of the undead flesh-eaters, they place a call to an emergency number, from which a second call goes out to Billy. He arrives to deal with the zombie. His instrument of choice for doing so is a battery-powered drill, the tip of whose bit he positions at the base of the zombie’s skull before squeezing the tool’s trigger. Billy is able to employ this method because the zombies he’s summoned to deal with are newly reanimated, unsteady creatures, often barely aware of their circumstances. Occasionally, too, he’s called upon to deliver a pre-emptive drilling to the recently deceased, to prevent their return. A functioning alcoholic, Billy is happy to take tips in the form of alcohol.
The narrative he relates consists of two alternating strands, one set in post-zombie-apocalypse San Francisco, the other set in pre-zombie-apocalypse Youngstown and Boston. Each half of the novel is a variation on the quest story. In the pre-apocalyptic chapters, Billy (née Vasilis), then a college student, chases Yvette, a young woman who embodies the white, upper-middle-class Amercian ideal, which he, the son of Greek immigrants, both aspires to and despises. His pursuit of Yvette is paralleled by his desire to succeed as a writer, which leads, when he follows her from Ohio to Massachusetts, to him enrolling in a certificate program at Emerson College. In contrast, in the book’s post-apocalyptic chapters, Billy resists any quest beyond that for the next drink—and the larger pursuit of self-annihilation it represents. But he cannot help continuing to write, even now, and despite his best efforts, he is drawn into a search for the origins of the zombie outbreak. His pursuit of knowledge, however, is as fraught and filled with frustration as his search for love.
Indeed, frustration of various stripes is one of the Billy’s fundamental experiences of the world pre- and post-apocalypse. Self-lacerating, compulsively honest, his voice is perhaps the novel’s most significant achievement. A blend of mid-to-late twentieth century naturalists John Fante and Charles Bukowski, Billy brings to the familiar material of both the novel’s narrative strands an unforgiving clarity that is bracing. Mamatas has always been an experimental writer, and the technique of bringing together a prose style drawn from the literary mainstream with material drawn from the horror field is one he has employed successfully in the past, in novels such as Move Under Ground and The Damned Highway (co-written with Brian Keene). It’s a strategy that works here to particular effect.
The novel’s title is, of course, a play on William Wilder’s 1945 film noir, The Lost Weekend, which focused on an alcoholic writer. Where Wilder’s film is ultimately optimistic, however, Mamatas’s novel is not. Indeed, in an afterword, Mamatas notes that The Last Weekend had its origin as part of a proposed series of books set in the world of George Romero’s zombie movies. Although the larger project did not come to fruition, the novel Mamatas produced evokes the bleak spirit of Romero’s best work. The Last Weekend might be thought of as a companion piece to Colson Whitehead’s excellent Zone One, a ground-level vision of the zombie apocalypse that sacrifices neither literary ambition nor quality.