The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer is that rare commodity: a novel that brilliantly combines dark humor, hot sex, and, well, zombies.
Not that there haven’t been other great zombie novels with lots of dark humor in them - one that comes to mind immediately is The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor, a satire of both zombie novels and the stylings of Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion fame/infamy, whatever way you choose to look at his prose). But kudos to Amelia Beamer for The Loving Dead, because her novel also has hot, kinky sex in it and makes you think of zombies in a whole new light. Beamer posits the original and inspired idea of people turned into zombies not because of some strange meteorite shower or a manmade virus that escaped a government lab, but from a mutated STD spread by sex with an infected partner. Or, of course, you could contract the disease through the bite of someone who has the STD.
The novel focuses primarily on the results of the STD spreading through the points of view of several young adults sharing a rental house in California’s Oakland Hills. Michael, the primary renter, throws a costume party one night; Kate, another major character who splits the rent there, brings her belly dance instructor, Jamie, to the party. Jamie is into sex with women, and during the course of the evening, she asks Kate to tie her to Kate’s bed, where they become intimately involved.
Jamie is the first person in the novel to change into a zombie. While tied up, she feels odd and says the words that every other character who changes into a zombie says (or paraphrases): “Something’s happening.” She moans, her eyes go a milky white color “as if cataracts had suddenly developed,” she bares her teeth, her skin turns “ashen grey” and her tongue turns to “the color of a well-done burger.” None of these signs can be considered a change for the better.
Kate backs away to avoid getting bitten but nonetheless subsequently changes into a zombie herself. Cameron, who along with almost everyone else there thinks this is all just an act or a joke, wants to get him some zombie action (granted, he doesn’t really believe at the time Jamie is a zombie). The inevitable happens - Jamie bites off a chunk of his bottom lip, and it’s not long before others become zombies, too.
Michael and Audrey, another partygoer and former girlfriend of Cameron, somehow aren’t changed into zombies. Michael ties Cameron to a shower door in the bathroom and considers calling an ambulance. He doesn’t, being both too cheap and likely afraid of what might happen. The party rolls on. He has a romantic interlude with Kate at the house (watching Shaun of the Dead on DVD). Their worry and fear surrounding the zombiefication of their friends doesn’t stop them from getting on with their own lives. In the morning, Michael drives Kate to her parked car since she needs to get to work at Trader Joe’s.
This is a totally fabricated reason by Kate. The real reason for her departure is a scheduled rendezvous with a married fifty-something man, Walter - her sugardaddy. He’s arranged for them to go on a zeppelin ride, followed by dinner then on to a fancy motel where he’s booked a room. The zeppelin ride is one of my favorite parts of the book - an infected young woman becomes a zombie and spreads the disease through biting other people aboard, until almost everyone on the zeppelin changes into a zombie. Kate tries to warn the passengers and stop the young woman from attacking others by using Walter’s belt to bind her arms, but the woman’s father doesn’t believe his daughter could be becoming a zombie. He, of course, is one of her first victims. The only way Kate and Walter avoid becoming victims is by locking themselves in the zeppelin’s restroom of the zeppelin.
The Loving Dead is hot in a very twisted way, and author Amelia Beamer’s take on zombies being created through STDs is original and makes for a wickedly fun read. With all the real horrors we face today - flesh-eating viruses and AIDS, to name a few - a mutant STD that causes a person to change into a zombie doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it might have a few short decades ago. The Loving Dead is recommended to fans of general horror, even more so for aficionados of zombie novels featuring a liberal lacing of spicy sex and dark humor.