The Forest of Hands and Teeth

No vampires or woofs here.  Just zombies...and a whole lot of frustration.  The characters are frustrated, and I was frustrated while I read it.  I don't think the connection there is intentional.  In Naked Lunch, for example, W. S. Burroughs creates a master-slave relationship between the text and the readers that parallels the kink of the story.  This novel doesn't have that sort of authorial forethought.

Frankly, with such a provocative title, I expected something more.  I read this after Hunger Games, which may have ruined me for post-apocalyptic teen fiction...but this novel is weak enough to suck next to Twilight even.  In all areas.

My first big question:  WTF is this novel really about?  It doesn't have any moving themes, and that means it has little cultural value.  That may sound smug, but I don't mean it to be.  There are really horrible novels that have cultural value, and, therefore, worth reading.  Naked Lunch, again--not the greatest story in the world, not the most engaging characters, not the most rewarding themes...but still worth it.  Still somehow important culturally.

  • Great title.  Seriously.  
  • Some potentially interesting entanglements, romantic and plotwise.
  • Some compelling scenery.
  • The characters.  Completely flat, one-dimensional, static--whatever literary term you want to use to say they are not appealing and do not make you want to care about them.  The main character is flighty and whiny.  She has a connection with a foreign zombie girl--but that connection does nothing to further any character.  The men are bland and malleable, uninteresting.  No one develops enough to deal with the main conflict (the elusive main conflict) head on.
  • Plot.  Why are there zombies?  Who is the red shirt zombie girl?  Where is she from?  Who put up the giant fences?  Why did the nuns rise to power?  What happens to the zombies when there are no people left to chase/eat?  These are just some of the plot questions I struggled with during and immediately following.
  • Female roles.  They're not worth anything if not chosen by a man.  But they nuns rule everyone.  They must be meek and obedient.  But the main character can lead...a little.  She's pathetic enough that no one chooses her for marriage, yet when she has the chance to be with the man she's always loved, she gets tired of him.  The red shirt zombie girl is the key to something, but we never find out what that is.  Wishy-washy ladies yet again.  
Reading this novel was like reading my students' end-of-the-semester English 100 papers.  There was so much promise, obvious knowledge of writing convention, but no follow-through, no pay-off.  I was disappointed because the potential peeked out here and there--like when students write a really killer thesis statement, but the support doesn't defend the idea.  (What a lame analogy.  I should've done something with a circus or popcorn or something.  Oh well.  I fall prey to my own criticism.  Karma.)

I wanted the chain link fence to fall.  I wanted everyone to die except the main character.  I wanted the title to really mean something.

I hear they're making a movie.  Maybe it'll be one of those rare instances in which the film is better than the literature.  I'll probably see it.


  1. Haha, wow, you hated this book a lot more than I did. I actually was really engrossed by it, but I can see a lot of your issues. I actually went and dug out my old, pre-Blooger-blog ramblings on Forest of Hands and Teeth, and I might post it tonight, but I had similar issues. Mostly, Mary being a selfish bitch who sacrifices nearly everyone she loves for the sake of seeing the ocean.

    And yeah, it meanders, and it is difficult to figure out what it's about. It switches gears from Village-esque mystery to zombie road trip on a dime. I was disappointed with the lack of answers, too, but there are now officially two more entries into the series, so I guess perhaps some questions get answered in those?

    On the other hand, and in distant, distant retrospect, I kind of like that we didn't learn everything the first go 'round. It's sort of like the Cloverfield of zombies books - you're not always gonna know why the monsters are there and where they came from, because not everyone's in the position to know. I'm sure if I ever got caught up in the zombie apocalypse, I'd never know how it started. I'm sure most people wouldn't, and certainly not almost a century afterwards.

    I actually have fond memories of this one, certainly more than twilight, and I'm excited to read the rest. Are you going to finish up the series?

  2. Funny you should ask. I'm reading The Dead-Tossed Waves right now, and I'm totally into it. I'm looking forward to finishing it (probably tomorrow) and writing something positive for once. That is, if it keeps going the way it is now.

    HOWEVER, it does--once again--have lips brushing and--once again--a girl who thinks she's to blame for every damn thing.

    When I write my parapseudo, my protag's gonna be an intelligent slut-bitch-skeptic, just out of protest!