The Zom­bies of Lake Woe­be­got­ten

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - — Rob DeWalt

Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio found it­self at the cen­ter of fe­ro­cious pub­lic de­bate re­cently af­ter the fir­ing of one of its news an­a­lysts prompted some po­lit­i­cal con­ser­va­tives to call for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the me­dia out­let’s fund­ing. In re­lated news, flesh-eat­ing zom­bies have at­tacked Lake Woe­be­got­ten.

All things con­sid­ered, the zomb­i­fi­ca­tion of pop­u­lar lit­er­a­ture and pop­u­lar cul­ture is, well, gosh-darn pop­u­lar these days. From a take on a Jane Austen clas­sic — Pride and Prej­u­dice and Zom­bies — to ti­tles from Cana­dian pub­lisher Coscom En­ter­tain­ment that in­clude The Ad­ven­tures of Huck­le­berry Finn and

Zom­bie Jim, Anna Kar­nivora, and Alice in Zom­bieland, the un­dead are alive and sell­ing in re­tail shops and e-reader down­load sites world­wide.

I’m not sure if this trend in­di­cates a grow­ing cyn­i­cism about, or dis­missal of, clas­sic lit­er­a­ture and phi­los­o­phy in the age of too much in­for­ma­tion and re­cy­cled en­ter­tain­ment, or if it sig­nals an un­for­tu­nate evo­lu­tion­ary step to­ward hu­man­ity’s in­tel­lec­tual im­plo­sion. They may be re­lated, but who has the time to con­nect the dots when there are so many awe­some vam­pire and zom­bie shows on TV? Be­sides, ’tis the sea­son for fan­ci­ful, flesh-eat­ing fic­tion. Let the good tomes rot!

If any­one’s work has ever worn a gi­ant strob­ing neon sign on its back that read “Zomb­ify Me!” it’s Gar­ri­son Keil­lor’s se­ries of books and NPR ra­dio spots about Lake Wobe­gon, a fic­tional agrar­ian town in Min­nesota where “all the women are strong, all the men are good look­ing, and all the chil­dren are above av­er­age.” In The Zom­bies of Lake

Woe­be­got­ten — a quick-read pa­per­back writ­ten by some­one known as Har­ri­son Geil­lor — the towns­peo­ple are not only con­flicted Catholics, lapsed Luther­ans, re­luc­tant Jews, and hum­ble mak­ers of de­li­cious noo­dle-hot-pot dishes and ques­tion­ably ed­i­ble lute­fisk casseroles. They, them­selves, are also in­cred­i­bly de­li­cious.

When a strange, lighted ob­ject streaks across Lake Woe­be­got­ten’s gray win­ter sky, avid ice fish­er­man and bour­bon en­thu­si­ast Gunther Montcrief chalks it up to a me­teor. But when the dead fish in his cooler start flop­ping around and he’s forced to chop off their heads to quiet them, he be­gins to think some­thing else is hap­pen­ing — pol­lu­tion, maybe?

It soon be­comes clear that re­an­i­ma­tion isn’t rel­e­gated to makeshift shacks on the ice. Peo­ple in town who have been dead for a while start pay­ing vis­its to their reg­u­lar haunts, and it takes some time for the liv­ing pop­u­la­tion to catch on. That’s not to say peo­ple from Min­nesota are slow, mind you. It’s just best to stay out of other folks’ busi­ness — es­pe­cially if that busi­ness is feast­ing on hu­mans. The Zom­bies of Lake Woe­be­got­ten ex­cels at spin­ning gross satire from par­ody — tak­ing Keil­lor’s quaint and quirky char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of ru­ral Min­nesota life and giv­ing them a mag­nif­i­cent guts-spat­tered, meat-flecked makeover. Fans of Keil­lor’s work who have weak stom­achs and strong Judeo-Chris­tian be­lief sys­tems: wel­come to lit­er­ary shock and awe. There will be blood. And vomit. And ex­plod­ing heads.

Some may be taken aback by the de­scrip­tion of a youth Christ­mas pageant that de­volves into a priest’s in­ner strug­gle over whether or not it’s OK to dispatch a lim­b­less, baby-zom­bie Je­sus with a knife to the eye­ball dur­ing the Na­tiv­ity scene. To even the spir­i­tual play­ing field, per­haps, a Nordic-god-wor­ship­ing man named BigHorn Jim gets his come­up­pance at the hands (well, claws, re­ally, but when you’re on the bad end of ’ em, who’s got the where­withal to mince words?) of a bear, which goes on to dis­em­bowel a mur­der­ous, power-trip­ping har­lot. And just be­cause a task force called the In­ter­faith Anti-Zom­bie Ini­tia­tive is formed doesn’t mean ev­ery­one’s go­ing to get along.

In a sort of Greater Tuna-meets-Grand-Guig­no­lin-Fargo fashion, The Zom­bies of Lake Woe­be­got­ten strikes a bal­ance be­tween hu­mor, horror-fic­tion gra­tu­itous­ness, and tense psy­cho­log­i­cal drama. You’ll meet a dom­i­na­trix/wait­ress with mar­tial-arts skills and a heart of gold. You’ll ad­mire, to some de­gree, a se­rial killer who, given the cir­cum­stances, be­comes an as­set to the town’s se­cu­rity needs be­cause he’s so darn good at what he does. (He may be too good.) You’ll also meet a woman in an un­happy mar­riage who goes to great lengths to pur­sue per­sonal free­dom and self-val­i­da­tion. You might do that, too, if your hus­band, the mayor, was hav­ing sex­ual re­la­tions out­side your mar­riage — with his car.

The spooky stuff isn’t the flesh eaters. It’s the towns­peo­ple, whose lives are turned up­side down be­fore the zom­bie up­ris­ing, de­spite the sug­ges­tion that the biggest worry they face is whether or not Café Lo — “The sign out front read Cafe Lo­qua­cious, but if you went ahead and said all that you were just putting on airs, and might as well go around wear­ing Ital­ian leather shoes and driv­ing a red con­vert­ible car and think­ing you were bet­ter than ev­ery­body else.” — might run out of rhubarb pie be­fore sup­per­time.

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