I think if you do your job, then people will come to it—whether it's about elevator inspectors, or John Henry, or zombies. Early on my career, I
figured out that I just have to write the book I have to write at that moment. Whatever else is going on in the culture is just not that important. If
you could get the culture to write your book, that would be great. But the culture can't write your book.
What is it about zombies, then, for you—about their mythology that's so productive and enticing? What about them gets your creative juices flowing?
For me, the terror of the zombie is that at any moment, your friend, your family, you neighbor, your teacher, the guy at the bodega down the street,
can be revealed as the monster they've always been. That's reflected in the book, as the character Mark Spitz tries to figure out what's happened to
the world. That was my interpretation very early on. It's in Night of the living Dead, too.
One way you update existing zombie mythology is by dividing them into two subtypes: skels and stragglers. Skels are more like your garden-variety
zombies—frenetic cannibals on a rampage for human blood and brains. But stragglers become gentle when they transform: they return, almost
sleepwalk, to the places they most loved in life. The living room sofa, the Xerox machine in the office. Why did you feel it was important to
update the mythology in this way?
I was thinking about nostalgia and sentimental attachment to the past in Colossus of New York and Sag Harbor. So for me stragglers are
another way about dealing with the problem of wrestling with our pasts. They're tied to key moments in their lives, and places that remind them of
And the survivors, too—Mark Spitz and all of his cohorts—are also trying to recreate a fallen world. So I was trying to do my own take on zombies and
the stragglers are a vehicle for introducing some of the themes I've explored in other books, that appear in a new variation in this book.
They remind me of characters in Dante's Inferno, the way they continually seek to return to their former lives, and they do—just in sad,
They're the living dead. They share a lot of characteristics with ghosts—people who can't progress to the next stage. That notion of the ghost applies
to both the stragglers and the remaining human survivors.
The book also features biting, and very often hilarious, satire of modern consumer culture—which, maybe unsurprisingly, survives the apocalypse.
Was it important for this book to explore who are as consumers?
I think the origin of that trope in the zombie story comes from Dawn of the Dead. The characters are wondering why these wretched legions are
surrounding the mall, coming back day after day. One of the characters says: "This is an important place in their lives, and they're trying to get back
to it." I don't want to expand that to emotional memory, but they have this consumer memory that's very hard-wired.