Review by Jowana Bueser
THE PAST AND OTHER THINGS THAT SHOULD STAY BURIED
By Shaun David Hutchinson
304 pages. Simon Pulse.
Shaun of the Dead, one of the greatest films of all-time, features a scene where best mates Shaun and Ed were arguing which vinyl records should they use to kill a couple of zombies hobbling in the backyard. Despite the presence of the undead, the real horror of the film is growing up and the zombies are, at best, incidental. In many ways, The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried is a kindred ink-and-paper spirit of Shaun of the Dead. Told from the back-and-forth viewpoints of the main characters, Shaun David Hutchinson crafted a hilarious story about friendships and second chances but with zombies. The undead element serves as a solid plot device moving the story and keeping it off-kilter.
Humor puts life in a better perspective but spare a thought for Dino De Luca after a funny thing happened on the morgue table. The son of the proprietor of the DeLuca and Sons funeral parlor understands death more than most people until the resurrection of July Cooper. Dino and July are former best friends and before they could patch things up, she died. Post-mortem stitches and all, his best friend is inexplicably undead and thirsty for Slurpees.
Admiringly, Hutchinson sidestepped any pontifical traps and doused any possibility of on-the-nose moralizing with humor. He kept it absurd. More so, he developed anti-cookie cutter characters. Dino and July are confused, scared, and tormented by and of their past, present, and future. He seems to be keeping it together better than his former best friend but a perfect boyfriend could not hide the pain of not being able to tell your parents about your dreams. She is a functioning corpse.
Mayhem ensues as the main protagonists try to find solutions to the morbid situation. But the meat, or should I say the chunk of rotting flesh, of the story is bringing to light the secrets and sounding off the things left unsaid in their relationship. The revelations are surprising and heartbreaking. There is a remarkable chapter that started out with the usual bickering until it reaches a crescendo of emotions and a cold hard truth about the complexity of friendship. Rarely does Hutchinson end a chapter with cliffhangers and rather punctuates it with poignancy or a punch in the gut.
By and large, this is a story of second chances. Fascinatingly, the author elected to subvert certain expectations, not only to entertain, but also to bring out difficult truths about human relationships. The mystery behind the macabre resurrection becomes secondary and less compelling. Our larger interest is on the human drama unfolding in the midst of the undead. The final reckoning of the former best friends is a push-and-pull of acceptance and letting go. The deliberate use of a zombie as a framing device puts things in a different light: death, in this case, is impermanent. Friends come and go. Some friends die. Friendship is impermanent. But friendship is like death, necessary. So is acceptance, necessary. So is letting go of our past, necessary.
Lest I forget, Hutchinson peppered certain chapters with queer lessons. Most of these are reflections on LGBT+ and cisgender relationships mirroring the friendship of the main characters. One paragraph is a concise statement on making jokes about gay culture. That humor should not be made at the expense of a particular group of people, especially the minorities and the marginalized.
Expertly navigating the tricky waters of horror and comedy is something the author deserves commendation for. Horror has the ability to heighten human drama. Illustrating the nature of our past as a constant phantom is far more entertaining in the form of a caustic zombie with multiple chips in her decomposing shoulders. Humor tempers the tone and adds ghoulish charms to any horror tale. The key is confidence and Hutchinson is a confident writer. He has the guts to insert a fart joke in the middle of the story and is quite a testament to his cool daring.
Reading a Hutchinson book for the first time is quite an entertaining experience. I had too much fun and left a small Easter egg: the first letter of each paragraph in the review spells out a synonym for “zombie”.
Limited copies of The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson is available at select Fully Booked branches. Hit us up to reserve a copy.
Jowana applied as a research assistant for Hogwarts but was rejected because her natural sarcasm is considered a form of dark arts. She has since harnessed her powers working as a social media manager for almost a decade. Books keep her calm from the madness and the sameness of life. You can find her on Twitter @jowanabueser.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]