Macabre Book Review: Living Death (2021) by David Musser
A Zombie Apocalypse is the last thing Nick expected to find on his one last adventure. LIVING DEATH is the story of a man that is seriously ill. His doctor has told him that treatment is futile, so he decides to go on one last cross-country road trip. Haunted by memories of his past, he must fight for survival against zombies and the uninfected, all in an effort to find a beautiful place to die and perhaps a place where his loved ones can live.Amazon Summary
David Musser only seriously began to pursue his desire to write in an effort to distract from the quarantine we all had to deal with during COVID-19. As an author who struggles with dyslexia, it’s great to have a representation of disordered creatives with great work out on the market. He started with Keep in the Light (2020), a series of novellas that he continued with Whispers of Gray (2021), and Bad Humans (2022), but throughout the publication of that trilogy, he also released The Last Call (2021) and then finally Living Death (2021). Here is another example of a writer that I’m glad to have been exposed to, this experience with Living Death has made me interested in reading more to see how his voice as an author changes with each novella.
When I ask for a more palatable hero I’m not necessarily thinking older, heterosexual, white male—and yet, strangely, for this novella, it worked. It’s not exactly always the prudent thing to do to write from a perspective you cannot necessarily empathize with personally, so I can understand the choice for this protagonist.
Nick has nothing left to live for, that’s clear from the third paragraph that he’s dying, and the further we get into the novella, the more certain we are that his time is limited. However, what changes is the idea of whether or not he has something to live for. When Musser titled this as a love story, it wasn’t some reach at ill-timed humor—I think, in some weird way, this is a love story in multiple different ways. Love for a beloved partner who has passed, love for potential new partners and companions, love for the idea that life will continue after the zombie apocalypse has snuck up on the world overnight.
A Macabre Evaluation
I think after the concept of zombies was so masterfully handled by The Walking Dead franchise, it’s difficult to really make it fresh and interesting. Mussner, somehow, was able to give us an entertaining story to go along with zombie lore that already felt familiar. He didn’t attempt to rewrite the genre, or invent new types of zombies—it felt very much like a fan writing a zombie love letter for other fans, without it coming across as cheap fan fiction. The horror genre has some very fickle fans, but I think that more and more are understanding the breadth of this genre. While it wasn’t fully horror, the paranormal, supernatural, suspenseful, and thrilling aspects of this novella were excellent additions to turning this into a well-rounded experience.
Our protagonist Nick is one that we’re not given much hope, if any, to pursue in the way of his longevity. His voice is intriguing though and reminds me of listening to a barfly who knows how to spin a good story, regardless of whether or not it’s entirely believable. Musser didn’t give us an opportunity to hate any characters, except perhaps Todd, the abusive boyfriend, turned ex-boyfriend of our protagonist’s new companion. Nick’s ability to develop relationships with the people he encounters is pretty solid, despite him proclaiming to not be a “nice guy” he quite regularly finds those who are deserving of help and companionship and becomes the person they need. Is Nick really just a people-pleaser? Or is he really a nice guy that just doesn’t enjoy being put into a position of obligation?
Perhaps it’s the rapidity of going from an area the protagonist is familiar with to being thrown into a less familiar environment, but it always feels as if there is uncertainty for the characters. I feel this was done very intentionally to cause conflict and require them to enter into situations that would cause unpredictability, danger, anxiety, and ambiguity about what might happen next.
Fighting for a cause is important, especially when the motivation for one’s personal life path is indeterminate. Being given someone or something to live for, when you feel that your life has all but run its course, is excellent propulsion forward within this story. Nick, our unlikely protagonist, is given next to nothing to live for until he is shown someone who needs his help. While I wasn’t on the edge of my seat the entire time, I was invested in knowing what would come next. Would our survivors make it through each hurdle unscathed? When an obstacle came their way that was too great for them to overcome, how would they react? Would they put others before themselves? Ultimately, the theme was interlaced with good versus evil, and right versus wrong.
A good zombie thriller doesn’t lull once it gets into the action, but the thing is—there is never a period of this book where we aren’t in the action. Before the end of the preface we’re already in the story—if you don’t read the preface then you’ve missed an integral part of the story, so don’t skip it. The pace of this novella begins at a gallop and maintains that speed throughout the entire story.
The writing style of this novella is quite enjoyable, it begins as a first-person narrative and continues to carry that theme throughout without perspective switching, except when the narrator recounts a second-hand story from a librarian he encountered. Having never read anything by Musser prior to this, I can’t account for whether this is a typical voice for his characters, or if it’s just a one-off for this novella. There is an incredibly pompous quality to the protagonist’s voice—starting with the preface where he acknowledges that he is “not a nice person.” To me, this character is an authentic personification of an older, potentially republican cishet, white male; someone stuck in their ways, not a bad person per se, but very much under the impression that their way is the right way and unable to be swayed. There was one thing in particular that truly caught me off guard when the protagonist plugs the author’s books. Perhaps it was supposed to come across as humorous, which I understand the intention, but honestly made me cringe.
Upon finishing the story, I was highly satisfied with its resolution. In the end, after I finished reading the e-book version of the novella, I decided to see how the tone of the novella would change by listening to the audiobook. The difference was monumental, but it didn’t leave me feeling like either was better or worse. I did, however, appreciate that I was able to hear the attitude of the protagonist more clearly through the audiobook.
This is definitely a book I’d recommend taking a few hours to read—as a novella it’s not a long read and with the pace of the story it’s not one that you’d necessarily want to put down before finishing. You can find it as an e-book, paperback, or my personal recommendation, as an audiobook on Amazon here.