Book Review: Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: Zombie

Author: Joyce Carol Oates

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Number of Pages: 181

Rating: B-

Recommended: Yes


     Zombie is, hands down, the most fucked-up book I’ve ever read. The ‘protagonist,’ known simply as Quentin P., is one of the most thoroughly disgusting and vile characters in the annals of recent fiction.  He honestly makes Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs look like Anne of Green Gables. It’s an understatement to say that this book is not for everybody, but I definitely think it has value, as difficult as it was for me to read. The plot follows Quentin, a serial killer, as he seeks out unlucky victims to lobotomize and turn into sex slaves for his own personal pleasure. The problem is, the victims never seem to live very long after brain surgery (shocking!), and thus Quentin’s all-consuming obsession intensifies and leaves a heightening body count.


Quentin’s voice is depraved, grotesquely sexual, and somewhat imbecilic, and the novel is filled with crudely drawn illustrations, incessant capitalization of words, and bizarre use of punctuation. It adopts the mood and style of a psychopath’s journal, which adds to the already overwhelming creepiness of the story. We are refreshingly provided with no sad backstory for Quentin, and perhaps more chillingly, no explanation for his actions. The characters of Quentin’s mother, father, sister, and grandmother are given little development and serve mostly as enablers for this monstrous man.


I thought at times that this novel was too disgusting and over-the-top, going for maximum shock value at every possible opportunity. However, it was well-written and certainly held my interest, even though I was relieved when it was over. Zombie is the first novel I’ve read by Joyce Carol Oates, I’d heard her books were dark but I’d wager this one is dark even for her. There is no one in the book to root for, except Quentin’s unfortunate victims, and the reader is treated to a unceasing nightmare and isn’t provided with one iota of closure by the book’s end.


Most people wouldn’t be interested in a book this nihilistic, horrific, and just plain gross and people as masochistic as I am who would actually read a book like this, well… you know who you are. I actually don’t regret reading Zombie, it’s totally different from anything else I’ve ever read and Quentin is an incredibly vivid literary creation, from the very beginning it’s very easy to visualize his character and see how he operates.


The other characters have little to no personality whatsoever and for me that was okay; this is Quentin’s show. The other people in his life mean nothing to him and their depersonalization reflects that. I’d definitely be interested in reading more by Joyce Carol Oates and now I know what to expect from her as far as subject matter is concerned. Anyway, I recommend this novel to brave readers (with some trepidation,) with the guarantee that unless you seek these kind of books out, it will be one of the most unsettling novels you’ve ever read.


6 thoughts on “Book Review: Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

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