Confession: I love Daryl Gregory, and I wanted to read all his existing novels prior to the release of his new one, but I kept putting off reading Raising Stony Mayhall (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository) because I don’t like zombies.
Of course, Daryl Gregory doesn’t just do zombies like everyone does zombies. (Well, he does, but not right away.) Wanda Mayhall is driving her children home one night, in the year of the zombie outbreak, and she finds a dead girl wrapped around a tiny, still-moving baby. When she gets the baby home, she realizes that he isn’t breathing — moving, making noises, but not breathing. She names the baby John (though everyone calls him Stony) and raises him as her son. He grows up the way a normal boy would, just slightly deader. Until one dark, miserable night when he has to go on the run, and he finds that he’s not the only living dead person in the world.
You know what’s weird about adulthood that I’ve found? I’ve found that whenever you feel safe enough to make a sweeping pronouncement about yourself (I like X, I am the kind of person who Y), the universe bides its time and eventually finds an opportunity to zap you with something that directly contradicts your pronouncement, and then it stands next to you with its face right close to your face like an annoying younger sibling and goes “Take it back. Take it back. Take it back take it back do it TAKE IT BACK TAKE IT BACK,” until you give in.
Okay universe! Stop pestering me! Maybe sometimes I like zombie books, okay? GOD.
The fun of Raising Stony Mayhall is that Daryl Gregory never lets you get comfortable in what kind of book it is. First it’s a strange little coming-of-age story about a kid who’s adopted and always feels like an outsider. Then everything shifts, and Stony’s on the run with others like him, learning about the politics of being undead. I won’t go on about what happens after that, because I don’t want to spoil the book for you; but as I’ve said before, I love a book that’s willing to blow up the world it’s painstakingly created, in order to move on to something new. By my count, Stony’s world gets blown up (sometimes by him) four times over the course of this book. (Five times?) And every time it happened, I would think, Oh wow, we’re doing this now? Okay!
One of my favorite things about all of Daryl Gregory’s books so far is the characters’ determination to recast the madness of their lives in terms that make rational human sense. Like many of the characters in The Devil’s Alphabet, Stony is determined to research his own condition and figure out the science behind it. I love this because it’s exactly what people would do — you wouldn’t just accept that, okay, now we are in a world where people who have lost limbs and stopped breathing can walk around like they are still living. You’d take it to the laboratory and try to figure out what was happening. (I mean, that’s what I would do.) Though Stony reluctantly comes to terms with the inexplicability of his condition, he never stops trying to figure out what his condition means and how he can manipulate and manage it.
I get a kick out of reading an author’s books in order of publication, as I did with my imaginary girlfriend Helen Oyeyemi, and as I have now done with Daryl Gregory. You get to watch them grow. In spite of how frequently it burns its settings to the ground (sometimes literally!), Raising Stony Mayhall is easily the most cohesive of Daryl Gregory’s books so far, without losing any of the weird, specific inventiveness that got me so excited about Pandemonium. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
SPEAKING OF WHICH, I have his brand new book, Afterparty, sitting temptingly on the table where I keep my car keys. I’m saving it as a reward for myself once I finish writing the review of The Last Policeman that’s been giving me such trouble.
Cover report: The cover is the same in the US and the UK, and it’s rather dull. Another reason I postponed reading Raising Stony Mayhall is that the cover did not pull me in.
What’s a genre you don’t tend to care for? What’s the book or books that have made you reconsider your position on that genre?