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The Reapers Are the Angels - Alden Bell
The field is the world; the good seed are the children of
the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the
wicked one;
The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the
end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire;
so shall it be the end of this world.

There are people who are not going to read this book just because they don’t read books with zombies. They may not read it because it is horror, fearing that they will be exposed to graphic violence or maybe they won’t read it because it is about a fifteen year old girl; and frankly, teenagers are annoying. Whatever reason you might be thinking about using for why you are not going to read this book...well...put that thought on a back burner.

The book does have zombies called slugs. It does feature a fifteen year old girl; and yes, some people have found her Southern voice annoying, but what they miss when they say that is the absolute authenticity that comes through in every sentence and every paragraph. I’m not sure how a girl that can’t read who has never been educated except with on-the-job-of-living survival skills is supposed to talk. She colors her words with wisdom, self reflection, pain, and dogged truth. She has an undisciplined mind, honed by fire, bristling with desire to see the world, and experience what others are too afraid to try. She is Temple. She is Sarah Mary.

See, there’s music in the world and you got to be listening otherwise you’ll miss it sure. Like when the she comes out of the house and the night-time air feels dreamy-cold on her face and it smells like the pureness of a fresh land just started. Like it was something old and dusty and broken, taken off the shelf to make room for something sparkle-new.
And it’s your soul desiring to move and be a part of it, whatever it is, to be out there on the soot plains where the living fall and the dead rise, and the dead fall and the living rise, like the cycle of life.

The apocalypse happened twenty-five years ago so Temple was born after the world went to hell. She is of this world, and is not encumbered with memories of a life before of manicured lawns, bicycle paths, going to school, hanging out with friends, family dinners, or watching television. Unencumbered that is until she meets Maury. She calls him dummy because he doesn’t talk or show that much at all is being processed through his brain. She has thoughts of dumping him off at the first available moment, but then he shows her a slip a paper that was balled up in his pocket.

Hello! My name is Maury and I wouldn’t hurt a fly.
My grandmother loves me and wishes she could take
care of me for ever, but she’s most likely gone now.
I have family out west. If you find me, will you take
me to them? God bless you!
Jeb and Jennie Duchamp
442 Hamilton Street
Point Comfort, TX

Temple carries her own burdens of failure and getting Maury back to his family becomes a quest that she feels will lift some of the blood from her soul. She doesn’t really understand it, but feels in the doing maybe she will.

She has made enemies and one in particular keeps finding her like an angel of death. She can’t shake him. He is Moses Todd.

My gut tells me that’s my old friend Moses Todd, who’s got some business he’s gonna want to finish up with me. It’s a wonder how he’s trackin me, but you can’t put nothin past these southern boys. They just sit around waiting for somebody to kill their brother so they can get started on some vengeance. It’s like a dang vocation with them.

Temple finds moments of sanctuary, but knows, like a clock in her head keeping time, that she needs to keep moving or she will be found. She is nervous living in safety, walled away from slugs, but also from the wide open space of her world. Her feet start to itch and windows are reminders of what lies beyond.

She wonders how people can live this kind of life, trapped inside a house with windows everywhere showing you where else you could be.

Slugs are just a part of her world. They aren’t evil. Even men who find her attractive are but another component of her world that she is prepared to deal with. She does fear that there is evil inside of her. A darkness that comes out when she fights, when compassion disappears, and she is inflicting death as casually as a middle aged man at a lunch counter smacking flies with a flyswatter. In a scene that could have been lifted from a Cormac McCarthy novel she emerges victorious, but stained deeper than skin deep.

Amid the hot stench of fresh offal, she rises to her feet like the dreadful ghost of a fallen battlefield soldier, her hands tacky with the thick pulpy dregs of death splayed wide. The echoes of the clamour having died on the puddled ground, the only sound in the room is the thin insectoid buzzing of the three exposed bulbs suspended in ceramic sockets from the ceiling.
Even the imprisoned slugs themselves have paused in their perpetual movement to gaze with acquiescent eyes upon the scene of the massacre, as though in harmony with the inexorable and silent melodies of grim decease--as though in deferential recognition of the community of the extinct.
She rises to her feet and blinks, her eyes like bleached wafers set against the brown mizzle of blood already drying in flakes on her cheeks and lips and neck. She raises no hand to cleanse herself, marked as she is with a violence, ritualist and primitive, like those hunters who would decorate themselves with the ornamental residuum of their prey.

In a scene that is reminiscent of something out of a William Faulkner novel she is talking to an acquaintance who is trying to tempt her to go to California with him where things are rumored to be almost normal.

You get old, Temple. The wide world is a pretty adventure for a long time, it’s true. But then one day you wake up and you just want to drink a cup of coffee without thinking about livin or dyin.
Yeah, well, I ain’t there yet.
Goddamnit, girl, what happened to you? You got things to tell. You could tell me.
Maybe so, she says. But I ain’t there yet either.

There is a reason why Alden Bell’s writing is being compared to other great writers because he wrote a great book full of wonderful introspection, a character to rival Katniss Everdeen for cunning and survival skill, and a plot that kept me turning pages long after my family had nestled down to sleep. Bell is married to Megan Abbott, an accomplished writer in her own right. There is magic to the way he played with me in this one. He had me dangling from his fingertips, my mind churning and rippling with anxiety and the air crackled with the burnt rubber smell of fear. You can come up with all kinds of reasons not to read this book, but I hope I’ve given you at least one good reason in this review to read it.

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The window of my office is teasing me with sunlight and wide open spaces. I need to go see where else I can be.