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BOOK REVIEW: Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

| 28 August 2014 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

Del Rey
June 2011, $21.95
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell


stony mayhall


In 1968, after the zombie outbreak, Wanda Mayhall and her three young daughters discover the body of a teenage mother during a snowstorm. Wrapped in the woman’s arms is a baby, stone-cold, not breathing, and without a pulse. But then his eyes open and look up at Wanda-and he begins to move.

This book was not what I expected, at all, and I found it an incredibly refreshing take on the zombie genre. 
Stony is just a normal boy growing up in a house full of girls, normal, except for the fact that he’s not alive. 
There were times while reading this book that I felt like I was reading someone’s real life story. When I could completely overlook the fact that he was zombie, when I saw him for the person he was, regardless of his grey skin.

It’s a story about family: 

Partly this was because, as he’d tried to explain to her, Junie was an erratic personality. And partly this was because, as Junie explained to him, he was a jerk who used phrases like “erratic personality” and thought he was smarter than everybody else.

“I’m not using your money.”
“Of course you are. Look, let’s pretend we argue about this for two hours, and maybe I make you cry, and then you make me cry, and then you grudgingly admit that we can use the money-because that is what’s best for little Ruby.”
“Do you remember the taxi game?”
“When you and Junie were little, I used to get you to clean my room. I’d give you something to put away, and the taxi would have to carry it to my closet, or to my dresser.”
“That’s child abuse.”
“You both loved it. You’d beg me to play.”

Mom’s face had gone rigid-never a good sign-and while tears welled in her eyes, she seemed determined to keep them from falling. Chelsea was raw and outraged, awash in tears. Junie was the worst. She wept silently, like a great-grandmother remembering a childhood tragedy. Three women, three different ways of crying, Stony thought.

It’s about being a kid, before kids were wrapped up in cotton wool: 

“I’m not going to hit you in the face. Besides, you’re the Unstoppable.”
“I hate that name. Unstoppable what? It’s like calling the Hulk ‘the Incredible.'”
“We talked about this! Just ‘Unstoppable.’ Like ‘the Thing.’ Now put ’em down.”

About the human condition and what makes us tick, or not tick, as the case may be: 

He should be as inert as a lump of clay. Yet he moved and talked. He grew. He had feelings and ideas. He thought things such as, How am I thinking this?



It seemed to Stony that there was no need for God to send his own son off to be tortured and killed, just so God could bring him back to life and prove that he was his son. Why not just forgive their sins himself? He was God. Was he so petty that he needed some kind of payment, or else he’d burn all of humanity in hell? Jehovah, he’d decided, was kind of a dick.

Unique circumstances aside, this was a tale of growing up, discovering who you are and, inevitably, finding out that maybe you’re not as alone or weird as you thought you were. 

The writing was descriptive, engaging, and full of a dry wit that I found utterly compelling. Reading this book felt like being told a story by a close friend, and it covered your standard not fitting in issues, as well as much bigger issues, like being a minority in a world that doesn’t want you to exist. 

But all the while, it maintains its sense of humour: 

The man in the driver’s seat turned and waved. He was a round-faced black man with a think beard and a high forehead. And he was alive.
“That’s Aaron,” Mr. Blunt said. He pulled the van doors closed. “The beard.”
Stony sensed that the title was some kind of joke, but he didn’t know what it meant.

“Hah,” Crystal said. “A tarot reader in Moab-she’d never been wrong before-told me she’d be a boy.”
“A tarot reader? You couldn’t just get a sonogram?”
“Would a sonogram tell me that he’d be strong-willed, impulsive, and a lover of words?”
“Or have a vagina?”

He leaned over to her. “I really shouldn’t ask this,” he said. “But I was wondering if you would do me a huge favor.”
She regarded him suspiciously. “Yes?”
“I’m just looking for your honest, professional opinion.”
“About what?” And then: “Oh no. Good lord, you’re writing Jack Gore fan-fic?
“If you could just take a look at it,” he said, “I’d really appreciate it.”

My only qualm with this book happened mostly in the fourth part, when it started to break the fourth wall and go meta. I was so completely absorbed by this book, and then the writer kept saying things that reminded me I was, in fact, reading a book. Each time this happened I was jolted out of the story, and this resulted in the last hundred or so pages being a lot harder to get through than the previous three hundred. 

Do you remember doing the dead man’s float? Every kid tries it. Face down in the water, arms drooping. After thirty seconds, a minute, your chest begins to burn but you don’t move: You hold out, staring at the blue cement of the pool floor, letting the waves rock your body like a rudderless raft. The shouting voices above mut to a low roar, and your ears tune to odd clicks and thumps, the whoosh of your pulse in your ear. Oh, how your mother will wail when they find your waterlogged body. Your father will fall to his knees wondering why he didn’t appreciate you more. Imagine the funeral! And then almost against your will your feet come down and you pull your face out of the water. You gasp and ask your best friend, How long was that?Or so I’ve been told; I’ve never tried it. Neither had Stony.

These meta parts seem almost as though the author had this awesome image in his head, and they didn’t fit into the normal narrative, so he had to change it up a bit. In a sense I can see what he was maybe trying to do, having now finished the book, but it just doesn’t work properly, in my opinion. 

Regardless of the meta-annoyances, this book is now going to take up residence on my favourites shelf, and I have already ordered other works by this author.

I would recommend this for people who love zombies, and people who aren’t so sure on how they feel about zombies. I’d recommend it to anyone who has ever felt themselves singled out or been considered one of the minority. And I’d recommend it for anyone who likes a well written, well fleshed out story, full of characters you are sure you’d be great friends with, if they weren’t stuck inside the pages of the damn book!

And now I really want to read the Jack Gore series Stony was a fan of. If only it were real!


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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