Author/Publisher: Peter Stenson/Crown Publishers NY
Released on: July 9th, 2013 (Pre-Order HERE)
Grade: 5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Pawl Schwartz
Fiend will blow your fucking hair back like an atomic bomb. Its narrative voice falls somewhere between Herbert Selby, Jr. and Irvine Welsh, something that is a wonder to see pulled off and could easily stand as the centerpiece of the novel, but no, there is a hell of a story here too.
With a ferocious and addictive bite as intense and sharp as meth, the story kicks in on Chase, a mid-twenties rich kid gone bad whose drug of choice is speed. Crank. Smoked, shot, whatever — it is the only thing at the center of his world. Same with his best friend, Typewriter John, who has been on a week-long binge with Chase when they finally stumble out of the house to score again and come upon a small girl giggling in their front yard — disemboweling a dog absentmindedly. After a tussle and what both John and Chase believe to be a speed-fueled delusional murder, they burn the house down and head for Mexico, with no idea that the world has been turned into hordes of giggling, hungry undead and what they killed was not a little girl but a zombie, or, as they become affectionately known in the book, a Chuck (short for ‘Chuckles’ because that is what they do constantly).
Chase and John quickly discover that the only people left alive in the world are speed freaks. Truckers and pockets of scab-faced ne'er-do-wells. What the fuck do you do when the problem is zombies and speed is the fucking cure? Well, first you have to deal with all the shady deals that surround a meth lab and try and keep yourself well stocked, because a couple of days without crank doesn’t just mean withdrawal, it means death.
There is a certain genius to this set-up in that it plays to the common delusions of a speed freak. Stopping really is not an option for them, and the rest of the world only acts as an impediment to their next score. Sanity quickly becomes something frail, like a full bowl of milk held out with both hands, a very fine line easily under or over shot (no pun intended). When meth is the cure, shit gets weird real fast.
Besides the fact that meth is a great drug to fuel a zombie novel because it makes the characters all believe that they are Bruce Willis with the brains of Einstein, it also serves to normalize these people who are normally marginalized. You cannot dismiss the junkie for his habit the same way that you cannot fault a scorpion for stinging you; it is in their nature.
“I’m high as shit, my legs are bouncing, and I’m smoking cigarette after cigarette. We’re passing White Bear Lake now and I see movement along the highway. It’s one of them, a re-animated teenager in tight boxers, and we all turn to watch, silent... I’m on the lookout and I’m important and I’m on the frontlines perched in a tree and our species survival depends on my ability to catalog the enemy and I’m a researcher and these are my subjects and demon, KK says, fucking quit, and I need them to be quiet because my brain is beautiful, my mission of utmost importance, and I’m top secret and chemical weapons and I wish I had a battle axe, razor sharp on both crescent arcs.”
So, perfect drug for the situation, worst situation for the drug. You can’t stay anywhere to cook, and you have to be spun out of your head to stay alive. Sounds like the last flickering light of humanity at their end, burning out bright and dirty. But as much as we don’t want to admit it, sometimes the worst things have their upsides. For example, I have to wonder if Stenson drew inspiration from this article — about how meth actually fights the flu.
It would be easy to see this book as an attempt to jump on the zombie bandwagon, but trust me on this, there is real grit and soul to Fiend. When I compare Stenson to Herbert Selby, Jr., I really fucking mean it. Fiend has all the hope-shattering power of Requiem for a Dream, with the counterculture wit and velocity of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. To dismiss it as just another zombie book is to do a great disservice to yourself.