Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Listeners - Harrison Demchick

The Listeners is a book I received a galley of through NetGalley. I thought the plot looked intriguing and I'm happy to read anything once. For some reason, I had gotten it into my head that it was a YA novel. After reading it, I'm pretty sure it's not a YA novel. It definitely had an interesting plot and narrative structure.

The Listeners tells the story of a boy named Danny. Danny has been in his house for heaven knows how long when the book opens, forced inside by a quarantine of the borough he lives in due to an unknown disease. His mother went out for toilet paper three days prior but has yet to return. As Danny eats his breakfast, he sees an infected person out on the street who shoots at him. This calls the cops over, who offer to trade Danny his mother's gun for supplies. However, they take a little more than that, as well. After the cops leave, two men appear and whisk Danny away with them. They are two Listeners.

The Listeners are definitely the main focus and idea of the novel. They are a brotherhood (no women are allowed in) that live together and work together to take out the cops, who they feel are corrupt. They are led by a 'prophet' named Adam and, ritualistically, cut off their right ear when they become a true Listener, so as to only hear the truth. Demchick has definitely created a stunning image and the chapter where the ritual is performed is extremely well written.

I think the thing I liked more than even the plot itself was the narrative structure. This story is told in chunks. The chapters jump back and forth through time, following Danny through different parts of his journey with the Listeners and what he comes to believe and to doubt. Meanwhile, there are also 'respites' throughout, that offer a somewhat lengthy chapter from a random, usually only tangentially related character's point of view. This both fleshes out the world that the novel is taking place in and allows the author to explore more complex views than Danny has without questioning his protagonist. I found the respites maybe the most interesting parts of the novel, since you never quite knew what was going to happen with them. The chapter about the male nurse I found especially haunting. It could have been a short story on its own.

The way the plot twisted and turned, especially with its nonlinear fashion, made the book a quick read. Chapters were short and usually ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger. It kept you on your toes, although sometimes it was a bit too fast paced, racing through bits you would have to go and reread because you missed the significance of them the first time around.

Another really interesting idea was the disease, itself. Although it takes a typical zombie movie-esque formula, Demchick has invented a very interesting and somewhat more disturbing take on the stereotypical 'infected.' The sickos, as they are called, are normal people who begin growing boils all over their skin. However, for the most part, they remain conscious and aware of their surroundings, able to talk and communicate up until the point where, well, they can't. That's what makes them such interesting "monsters." Some can be communicated with, some are basically harmless as they've lost their awareness and some turn violent. It's just unknown when and why any of them will be the way they are. It adds complications and ethical questions into the plot more than a normal zombie situation, although, to be honest, it's not talked about all that much.

To be honest, as much as I liked this book, I think it needs a continuation or it's sunk. It has created a very interesting world and cast some questions on it. However, the last twenty or so pages are completely unfulfilling compared to the rest. Questions are brought up (especially one in regards to a picture found) that are not even thought about but briefly. I'm hoping that means a sequel is on its way. However, if this book is a stand alone, I don't know if I could recommend it. It's interesting but it asks more questions than it answers and not in a good way. It is the beginnings of a very good zombie novel but only the beginnings. There definitely  needs to be more.

The Listeners comes out in December from Bancroft Press.

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