The following interview appeared in The National Post, Thursday, October 25, 2012.
Corey Redekop is in a zombie state of mind
David Berry | Oct 25, 2012
There is a scene in nearly every zombie film where one of our heroes comes face to face with a former friend turned ravenous undead cannibal. They always struggle for that extra half-step, searching for some shred of remaining humanity, usually right up until that gaping maw opens up and is filled with the business end of a trusty shotgun.
Reading Corey Redekop’s sophomore novel, Husk, is a bit like that split-second of hesitation stretched over six months.
“I actually was just reading on Tumblr — and I wish I knew how to use it better, so I could respond — but someone said, ‘Oh my god, I just finished Husk. I was empathizing with zombies, what’s wrong with me?’ ” Redekop says, his eyes widening in a fashion not terribly unlike someone about to pull the trigger. “I’m glad it has that effect, because he does some horrible things.”
The he in this case is Sheldon Funk, a failing actor turned reanimated corpse, and he does indeed do some horrible things, mostly of the devouring-the-still living variety. But much like that horrified Tumblrer, we do find ourselves on his side throughout, from his first taste of a shocked morgue attendant to a surprisingly touching finale, particularly since Sheldon hardly turns anorexic when he turns undead.
In truth, though, Sheldon is not exactly a, well, normal zombie — or at least not one of the completely brainless marauders of most zombie fiction. In some concession to the demands of first-person narrative, he has a fairly rich interior life, albeit one marked with the barely controllable urge to chow down on whoever happens to wander by.
“It’s only recently, from talking about it, that I’ve realized that I don’t think of it as a zombie novel, in a way,” Redekop explains. “It’s more a novel about lonely man, who has a lot of problems with his life who comes down with an incurable disease, and the side effect of that disease is cannibalism.”
Well, cannibalism and no particular need for a heart. What Husk might lose in fidelity to the classic George A. Romero archetype, though, it more than makes up for in decidedly macabre humour and oblique insight into the humanity-devouring human condition. As Redekop mentions, Sheldon’s problems do not end with undeath; if anything, his general sense of isolation from people is amplified by his his newfound taste for them.
In that sense, the ghoul Sheldon might more closely resemble is Frankenstein’s monster; if zombie fiction must always comment on larger society, then Husk is about the alienating effects of modern society, thanks in particular to some clever plot twists on Redekop’s part.
The fact Sheldon is an actor, for instance — is there any other profession that so perfectly encapsulates the human, not-so-human aspects of a zombie? — leads him to a measure of popularity, though in a decidedly freak show way. The fact Sheldon tears apart some of the people closest to him, too, gives the horror-comedy a distinct undercurrent of pathos. Like a lot of us, there’s aspects of his nature that make getting along with others a struggle — albeit, his are a tad more extreme.
“I think he’s very much like me, in a lot of respects,” Redekop admits, not a popular feeling when it comes to zombies. “I am an introvert, in a lot of ways, and I think having that mindset, you feel like you’re a bit outside everything else.
“I always like stories about outsiders, and stories about reactors,” he adds. “Sheldon’s an actor, but he’s not an actor in his life, he’s a reactor. I think in some ways that’s the same as me, where you kind of just take life one day at a time and see what comes. It’s part of me and it’s part of him. I’ve liked zombies for a very long time, but they’re really the saddest monster.”
Husk by Corey Redekop is published by ECW Press ($18.95). Redekop will appear at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto Oct. 27. For more information, visit readings.org.