Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Reapers are the Angels

The Reapers are the Angels
by Alden Bell
Narrated by Tai Sammons
7.4 recorded hours
Blackstone Audio

When I was in high school and VHS tape players had become household items, I rented George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD. I thought it was lame. I laughed and went to bed. And then proceeded to torture myself with imagining myself in a shopping mall, hopelessly surrounded by zombies. If you read my post about The Amityville Horror, you may realize that horror, bedtime and an overactive imagination are the prime ingredients for that peculiar psychological stew that I get myself into and that I'm sure mental health professionals would love to savor at hourly rates... So it should come as no surprise that I've never really bought into the zombie culture. I don't recoil at the thought of zombies like I do Satan, but you have to give me more than the fact that there are zombies involved for me to be interested. In the case of THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS, the deciding factor was this review written by Julie D. over at SFF Audio, appropriately titled, "Review of The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell." Now, even though I have not read or listened to any Flannery O'Connor (hangs head in shame) and Julie D. clearly states "It isn't Flannery O'Connor..." the review managed to hit upon my literary pretentiousness and intrigue me. So off to the warehouse I went and snagged an MP3-CD.

"God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe."
Those are the opening lines to the some of the most mesmerizing, beautifully wrought and gorgeous writing I've ever experienced. The basic linear narrative is that a fifteen-year-old girl from Tennessee treks through points South to deliver a charge (a retarded man) to his home in Texas. The world had changed in the past twenty-five years so that the landscape is populated by zombies; but far from this being some sort of cheap gimmick, the zombies serve as the counterpoints to the passages about civilization, humanity and, lots of "deep thoughts." Shades of I AM LEGEND (by Richard Matheson, starring Will Smith) come to mind; but then again it's much more than that, with its Carson McCullers-plus-George Romero writing style and the sense I'm listening to lit-fic rather than pulp. Yes, some of the scenes are gory, but there is a both a macabre and entrancing quality to those scenes that keeps the listener riveted. There are scenes imprinted in my mind's eye like a dream with the same sense of surreality.

And, too, a carnival of death, a grassy park near the city center, a merry- go- round that turns unceasing hour by hour, its old- time calliope breathing out dented and rusty notes while the slugs pull their own arms out of the sockets trying to climb aboard the moving platform, some disembodied limbs dragging in the dirt around and around, hands still gripping the metal poles— and the ones who succeed and climb aboard, mounting to the top of the wooden horses, joining with the endless motion of the machine, dazed to imbecility by gut memories of speed and human ingenuity.
As for Tai Sammons, she was dead-on right as the voice of Temple, the protag in this story. The audio sounded like Temple telling her story, with Temple casting the roles of the other characters, not Tai. And Tai also kept true to the voice of Temple throughout the story, even when it could have easily shifted into another narrative voice.

If this wasn't the end-of-the-year crunch for me when I was trying to finish up all my challenges, I would do something I have never done before: re-listen to it immediately. I suspect that the ending isn't what many people would like or expect; but it really couldn't be any other way and still be "true." Loved this audiobook.


  1. This definitely sounds like an intriguing work, DEC. I'll try and check it out. Great review. Thanks.

    p.s., btw, I recommend I AM LEGEND, but not the Will Smith film adaptation. It would be Robertson Dean's narration of that seminal Matheson novel.

  2. I'm so glad you liked the review and that it piqued your interest to trying a book you enjoyed. (I wrote that, by the way.) It was truly a delight and I have just finished reading it in actual book form. I am delighted to be able to inform you that it is even richer in reading it, or perhaps it is the second time around ... or both. :-)

  3. @le0pard13 - A couple of months ago I was in Boston attending an unconference about social media. At the end of the first days of talks, I headed back to the hotel room and found myself the sole possessor of a large flat screen television and the remote. As TV is not a big part of my life at home, the moment was, well, momentous! Anyway, it appeared that I AM LEGEND was the offering du jour across many of the movie channels, so that's what I got to see. The scenes with the zombies clustering in hives during the daylight hours and the bit about another zombie adapting were particularly interesting and I did wonder if those elements were further explored in the book...

  4. @JulieD - I think I'm going to have to pick up the print copy as well. I had started writing down all the quotes that caught my attention, but it was turning into a huge transcription process!

    I loved your review! It was very smart, well-written and, did THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS far better justice than mine has done. As I was writing, I often found myself frustrated trying to convey how strikingly poignant and enthralling Alden Bell's writing is. I'm sorry I messed up the credit on the review. I have gone and corrected the blog post to reflect the correct author. I thought the line right underneath the review title was the byline and it didn't occur to me to use the post line.

  5. The original motif of Matheson's I AM LEGEND pertains to vampires. Each of the later film adaptations (and there have been three) have altered the theme to their times (with the first being the most faithful). In the second (1971), it was mutants. For Will Smith's version it was zombies. If you're interested, I examined the book, films, and audiobook in a post. Thanks, DEC.

  6. X-posted comment from le0pard13's blog post:
    I've only seen I AM LEGEND (starring Will Smith) and interestingly, I had assumed the infected population was made up of zombies. Looking back, I realize, they could have been and probably were vampires. Hunh. Anyway, I see that The Omega Man and The Last Man on Earth are both availbale as streaming videos so it looks like I'll be up for a little late night viewing this week! It'll be interesting to watch the movies and compare and; of course, there's no reason or excuse not to check out the book as narrated by Robertson Dean! Thank you for your review!

  7. Just wanted to pop in and say I'm so glad you're joining in the fun of What's in a Name! Hope you like the categories.

  8. Just wanted to let you know I linked to your review of The Reapers Are the Angels today. It really was an excellent audiobook. I agree with you about how it ends -- unexpected, but as you say,"true".