Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Ravening, by Stewart Sternberg

Lots of preparation going on for the new magazine, but I'm taking time out from that effort to review and recommend this book.

It takes a lot for me to recommend zombie novels, but in the past year I have recommended one by Craig De Louie, another by William Jones, and now I'm going to add a third- Stewart Sternberg's "The Ravening."

"The Ravening" is a finely crafted story and well worth the read.  Here's why- it rises above theme, metaphor and all the other "herding" techniques that modern writers have come to depend on to sell their ideas to us and delivers a real story that allows his natural storytelling voice to come through and establish him as a trusted narrator. 

In novels by method writers like Stewart, their carefully controlled strategies eventually lose their grip on the reader, and it is at that moment we see their true mettle.  In "The Ravening," this event occurs very early on- on page 16 in  fact.  This is the point where Stewart the storyteller steps in to convincingly show us that he stands transcendent to the story, where we learn that he will be staying with us throughout this novel with a consistent point of view and a powerful message.

"The Smith and Wesson fired."

With that single line he defines himself as the force behind this novel.  Although the protagonist pulls the trigger, we have the very real sense that the gun fires itself.  With this sentence he defines the novel's entire metaphysical line of sight and it is both complex and convincing.  This construct is repeated in over and again throughout the novel, showing that, although the players are both present and participating in the unfolding events, the horrors of this post-apocalyptic world are the real actors. Stewart masterfully uses this nuance to define his characters by showing how they react to this terrifying new reality. The results are compelling reading. 

As the story progresses, Stewart moves beyond the stereotypes and tropes so common to zombie literature.  His characters shed their two dimensional skins (tough biker with a good heart, trembling school teacher toughening up to face an out of control world,etc., etc.) to become real people that we care about.  Oddly, the weakest character in this story is the villain.  He is carefully constructed to be the villain and I suspect that this is what diminishes his impact.  He becomes an object of oblique pity to the reader while the real villain rises up from Stewart's subconscious and begins to dominate the stage. 

That villain is the terror many authors personally face when they assume the role of all powerful creator.  It is the disconnect that the creator can sometimes feel for their created characters.  The disconnect for humanity that occurs whey they imagine themselves to be the center of the universe.  The disconnect that occurs when we imagine that we are in control of this world.

"The Smith and Wesson fired."

Stewart's own fear gives "The Ravening" its true villain.  That teachings and lectures and learning and encouraged diversity and tolerance and group values are ephemeral ghosts in a world where the weapons fire themselves, and where the dead won't stay dead.  His terrifying vision is this world where there is nothing to teach except survival, nothing to learn except not to be eaten. 

It will keep you awake at night.

Because of this, I highly recommend you buy and read "The Ravening."

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Aishah said...

Because I'm the mom of teenage boys, I've watched Zombieland, 28 days later, 28 months later and whatnot;)

Rick said...

You are such a brave sole, Aishah!

Charles Gramlich said...

I have this of course but have not yet had a chance to read it. I've reading friends' stuff like gangbusters but we have a lot of creative friends

Rick said...

You and I need a sabbatical so we can catch up on our reading.

Jai Joshi said...

Thanks for the review, Rick!


Rick said...

Welcome, Jai! Always nice to have you visit. You are planning on submitting a story, aren't you?

JR's Thumbprints said...

I just purchased Michelle Brooks new novella "Dead Girl, Live Boy." I suppose that would count for a zombie-like relationship perhaps.

I'll put Sternberg's "The Ravening" on my list. You gave one hell of a review, especially in regards to the true villian.

Rick said...

Thanks, JR. I think you'll like the book and it's definitely worth the read.

Jon said...

There is no villian like a Sternberg villian. And after nearly 20 years of reading his work I've seen plenty of them. Zombie novel? Yes it is, but that's only incidental to Stewart's writing. This could just as easily have been a WWII story with Nazis instead of undead. (Although there are similaritites, no?) Read The Ravening for the writing.
Oh, and if you think Lowery in this book is evil, wait until you meet Maloney.

Rick said...

Yep, it's a fine read, Jon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. This is a great book that I really enjoyed reading.

Rick said...

Same here, Christine. but the next person who sends me a zombie book to review is off my Christmas list.

Wait, Craig Delouie is already sending me one, and he's a damned fine writer. So next year's Christmas list. The next person who sends me a zombie novel to review is off next year's Christmas list.

Jai Joshi said...

I don't have one to submit just yet but I'd love to submit one soon! Thanks for your interest.


Rick said...

You're welcome, Jai!