Dust, by Joan Frances Turner – Book Review

Dust is a debut novel from Turner, and it has been fairly well received. Turner mentioned that she spent many years preparing the novel from notes and outlines, until things coalesced into a release this year. There are several new zombie novels out that are written from a perspective of the zombie, as is this one. Jessica died in a car accident when she was thirteen, at a time when bodies were re-animating from their grave. Set around Lake Michigan, the book opens nine years after Jessie’s death, with Jessie and her zombie gang hunting for deer and fighting amongst themselves which results in Jessie’s bad arm finally detaching itself and falling to the ground.  None of the gang felt sorry for her, and neither did she, shrugging it off as a useless appendage.

The second chapter takes us back in time to to her death, her digging herself out of her grave, hungry and confused, finding a rabbit to feed on and wandering around. She runs into several zombies, a gang themselves, and gets initiated (beaten) into becoming a member of the gang. The gang’s leader is a ruthless female zombie who is keeping a secret that Jessie spends much of the book trying to figure out; she becomes a rival to the leader, encouraged by the gang who already have a distrustful relationship with the leader.

Make no mistake, Dust is gory, but not in a slasher, dismembering kind of way. Turner has a talent for description and that’s where the gore comes from. For example, this passage describes her first sight of Joe, one of the gang members:

“The whole right side of his face was smashed in, concave forehead and crushed cheekbone and one eye bugging precariously from a broken socket. He was purplish-black, and dirty white: Maggots seethed from every pore and crawled across him in excited wriggly piles, blowflies waving and blooming and wilting, the bits of bone they’d scraped clean glinting like tiny mosaic tiles.”

Dang, I wish I could write like that.  She goes on to mention how she can always hear Joe approaching from the sound emanating from his presence – “Chit-chit, chit-chatter” – the sounds of the maggots and insects consuming his decomposing body. Turner entwines gory descriptions into prose like a seasoned weaver; the way it flows in the book makes it seem like it was effortless for her, but I doubt it was.

In this world, the zombies eventually die again after they become skeletal – this seems to give the zombies a sense of realism like humans or at least another species. The characters are well developed and you will feel for the zombies as they encounter their human family members, knowing they can never be like them – or can they? There’s something going on in the area surrounding the lake – something that humans are doing to alter what it means to be a human or what it means to be a zombie. The novel turns out to be a story of hope and also despair, as Jessie struggles to survive in this new world order, trying to make a life for herself and her friends.

If you are a zombie fanatic, you have to read this book for its fresh perspective.  If you’re not a fanatic, put it on your list to read one day as a break from the standard zombie faire.  I really enjoyed the book – the only faults I can find is that sometimes the continued in-fighting in the gang got monotonous and seemed a waste of time, and the ending left me wanting too much more of the story.  Her website and blog are at dustthenovel.com

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2 Responses to Dust, by Joan Frances Turner – Book Review

  1. judy says:

    finally a book from a zombie point of view !!!!

    • Bill Nelson says:

      Hi Judy,

      If you get a chance, also check out Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, by S.G. Browne. It is also from a zombie’s point of view and it is a fantastic read. It’s being made into a movie that will be out in early 2011. I’ve read the book and loved it, and I should have a guest review of the book posted shortly.


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