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Joyce Carol Oates' 'Zombie'

Gothic writer Joyce Carol Oates takes flesh eating zombies to the next level.

By Stephen HamiltonPublished 8 years ago 3 min read

A few years before zombie’s became a pop culture phenomenon, Joyce Carol Oates published a tiny novel called Zombie. Though known mostly for contemporary literature, Oates also has a gothic side which we’d previously seen in her novels like Mysteries of Winterhurn and many of her short stories, like those found in her collection, Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque. But Zombie shows a dark and twisted side of Oates' writing that is not present in her other works. This tale is so intense, many have described Zombie as one of the most frightening books I’ve ever read.

Walking Dead Meets American Psycho

Image via Cinemablend

If you’re expecting World War Z or Pride & Prejudice and Zombies, you’ve come to the wrong place. Zombie is not a story about The Walking Dead, but about a “sexual psychopath and killer.” It’s American Psycho with a twist, for our main character, Quentin P., wants to create a zombie to do his sexual bidding, by performing his own frontal lobotomies.

That might sound disgusting enough, but Joyce Carol Oates spares no detail of Quentin’s horrifying plans. She gets deep into the mind of this serial killer and his thoughts are so horrifying, they just may keep you up at night. She captures Quentin’s manic voice and short spurted thoughts that become run-on sentences, overusing "&" and CAPPING words of importance. It’s filled with some simple but unnerving illustrations, which make you feel like you’re reading this psycho’s diary.

Zombie Inspired by Real Cannibals

Image via Movie Pilot

Zombie is loosely based on the life of Jeffrey Dahmer, who sought to keep his victims under control by injecting muriatic acid into their brains. Oates’ Quentin comes up a more disturbing and graphic way to perfect his zombie. You’ll never think of dental tools the same way again.

When we first meet Quentin, it seems as if he’s a man trying to get his life in order. He’s seeing a therapist, taking classes at the local tech college, and working as caretaker for a boarding house his parents own. Slowly, he reveals to us that the crime he’s on probation for is only the tip of the ice pick (read the book and you’ll get that reference). He has murdered multiple men already, each time keeping a little souvenir from his victims: boots, jackets, sunglasses, as well as, uhm… some more personal items. The novel takes us through multiple zombie attempts, until he finds his perfect specimen this is sure to distress you.

Though there’s nothing worse in this novel than you’d find in an episode of The Walking Dead, some may find the graphic scenes difficult to stomach because they hit too close to home. This guy, and his victims, could be your friends and neighbors, and Quentin’s lack of remorse is the most frightening element of all. If allowed he will continue to kill and perform worse atrocities on his victims.

Joyce Carol Oates Prolific Literary Career

Photo via Princeton Arts

Zombie won the Bram Stoker Award for horror in 1995, but tells a tale whose fear factor stands test of time. It is not the only work of Oates' that has received such an honor. Oates has won the National Book Award, two O. Henry Awards, The National Humanities Medal, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize multiple times. She has also taught at Princeton University since 1978.

She described Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as “the greatest treasure of my childhood, and the most profound literary influence of my life. This was my love at first sight.” Along with Carroll, she read the writings of Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Henry David Thoreau as a child. When she was fourteen, she got her first typewriter.

She published her first novel, With Shuddering Fall, when she was twenty six years old. She has also written stories inspired by Bob Dylan and Charles Schmid. Some of her frequent topics in her work include rural poverty, sexual abuse, class tensions, desire for power, female childhood and adolescence, and even the supernatural. Violence was also a constant in her work, which explains the vivid tale of Quentin in Zombie.

The Frightening World of Zombie

As The Walking Dead takes the world of TV and comics by storm, it is clear that Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates was well ahead of its time. Read the novel to delve into a world of horror and intrigue unlike any zombie story since.

Zombie is a brilliant novel about twisted dark obsession from the extraordinary literary mind of Joyce Carol Oates. In this novel she provides a brilliant and disturbingly unflinching journey into the mind of a serial killer.


About the Creator

Stephen Hamilton

Definitive movie buff. Quickly realized that it was more financially prudent to write about film than trying to beg for millions of dollars to make his own.

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    Stephen HamiltonWritten by Stephen Hamilton

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