Muchlike vampire stories have always held metaphors for sexual awakening; werewolves for the repression of animal urges such as anger and Frankenstein's monsters for man's hubris in playing God; so zombies have come to reflect the evils of mankind.
It would be easy to say that zombie fiction, film and television is just simply an example of voyeuristic gore horror. But beginning arguably with Romero's classic Dawn of the Dead showing man's needless obsession with materialism even in the wake of a zombie apocalypse; to The Walking Dead's constant character struggles with their own humanity; to Arnold Shwarzenegger's recent foray into the genre with family drama Maggie; zombie fiction has quickly become a staple for Millennial media to comment upon society.
James Plumb's own experiments with the horror subgenre are well known, having written and directed the independent UK film Night Of The Living Dead Resurrection. But for his debut novella Little Monster, we see him cast off the restrictions of budgeted independent film for the boundless special effects of the human imagination.
This short story begins in the format most likely more familiar to Plumb, that of a script-like monologue. The prologue is written in the present tense as we are introduced to our protagonist, Gareth, and thrust somewhat cinematically into the drudgery of his everyday life; including his domestic struggles and difficulties weighing up family life and work.
The argument that we witness between him and his wife is obviously skewed in favour of Gareth due to it being first person, despite his own self deprecating comments at his own behaviour, so his wife is instantly set up as a character of contention. His daughter, when introduced, acts as a bond between them, literally holding them together in a group hug. Thus, in only a small prologue, we are set up for the whole theme of the story about to play out before us.
Title: Little Monster
Author: James Plumb
Publisher: Infected Books (1 Jun 2016)
As this is a short story, I will not go into major details of the plot so as not to spoil it. Needless to say it is a very human and family based approach to the 'zombie' genre and I use the quotation marks loosely as the word 'zombie' is never actually mentioned. Instead we are dealing with an un-known disease which causes the need for human flesh. The character struggles of Gareth and his wife, Jen, are very typical studies of how far a human being is willing to go for their loved one and ultimately it comes down to the question 'What wouldn't you do' for your family?
The intimate family setting of this drama reminds me very much of Plumb's Night Of The Living Dead Resurrection, which, while suffering from the typical burdens of a low indie film budget, still managed to deliver a solid plot dealing with the choices a family would have to make in the case of a zombie outbreak. Such a story would have proved a lot more haunting if it had been told in prose like Little Monster. It is in fact, not difficult to imagine this film almost acting as a prequel for the events that take place in that movie.
The setting of South Wales for the story is another solid thematic choice for the Cardiff based writer. It would have been easy for Plumb to have chosen a more exotic location for his story to take place, but the use of his home town helps ground it in the writer's own reality. Not only does this tie it in well with his other projects (the mention of a white van passing the family as they literally 'kerb crawl' the streets of Cardiff at night for victims is a nice touch), but it also makes it a personal project for him, which shows through the 3-dimensionality of Gareth and the struggles he faces.
Personally it would have been nice to get to know Jen a little bit more as well as Ana. On one hand it is nice to see Jen acting as the 'sensible' person in the relationship at first who, despite being a mother, is not blinded by her parental feelings. It would have been very easy to paint her as a one dimensional 'matriarch' or 'lioness' character willing to do anything for her family, but instead we are introduced to a woman who sees her daughter for what she is; while Gareth acts as an over-protective father blinded by his devotion and the realisation that he would literally do anything for his child.
Overall this is a well written novella with a nice pace. I easily devoured it in one sitting and not simply because of the length of the story but also the engagement of the characters. With the media being saturated by zombie films and television over the last few years, the 'infection spread by bite' or 'thirst for human blood' trope is easily lumped into the same theme, but it is nice to see Plumb using it to delve into something so personal and intimate as a simple family relationship and a young couple struggling to re-discover who they truly are in the wake of having a child.
With the length of this piece as well as the insular nature of the family setting, Plumb has played it safe with this piece. But he has done so in a way that has shown off his storytelling and character building strengths with a great room to grow as a writer.
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