"Handling the Undead" is a zombie book. But not the typical gory, horrendous BRAAAAAAINSSSS-craving type. Instead John Ajvinde Lindquist slowly weaves together an intelligent, philosophical look at what would happen if the dead were to unnaturally rise from their graves... and the only flaw is that the middle section of the book is so SLOW.
Something strange is happening in Stockholm -- the weather is oppressive, electrical glitches are everywhere, and everybody has a headache.
But when the strange conditions vanish, everybody who has died within the last two months rises from the morgue, funeral homes, and even their coffins. The "reliving" wander back to their old homes, mute and seemingly unaware, shocking their loved ones. And of course, the government quickly rounds them up and confines them, until they can be sure what dangers the "reliving" might pose.
In the days that follow, Lindqvist follows five people whose loved ones have come back -- a comedian sunk deep in denial about his wife being gone, a wannabe-rebel teen, a grandfather and a young mother trying to help her undead son "recover," and a widow who believes that she has a mission from the Virgin Mary. But something else is approaching Stockholm, bringing unexpected effects in its wake.
"Handling the Undead" doesn't really focus on the zombies themselves. Instead, Lindqvist conjures up a simple scenario, and examines how people would react to it -- we see hysteria, suicide, denial, dismissal, religious fervor, and a delusional belief that the zombies can simply go back to their old lives. And he brings up a number of philosophical questions with no easy answers.
The biggest problem with this book is that it should have been much smaller. Lindqvist spends most of the book's middle section spinning his wheels, with nothing really happening. And we never really find out WHY the dead rose, just that it is somehow an error.
Fortunately the beginning and ending are filled with subtle, creeping psychological horror (the whole scene with the grotesque drowned zombie is nauseating), as well as the painful scene where David and Magnus meet Eva again. And there's an exquisite metaphysical edge, which implies that there's more out there than just zombies -- think an elusive, benevolent figure with fishhook fingertips.
Lindqvist also fleshes out his characters beautifully, giving each one a backstory that shapes their current reactions. And he handles each one with compassion, even if they're delusional or twerpy. Among the best are David (desperately clinging to hope and unable to grieve), Flora (a rather annoying a teen who thinks she's an iconoclast), and Anna (whose son Elias has "come back") -- and even some of the zombies show a glimmer of personality.
"Handling the Undead" is a deeply flawed book -- the entire middle section is bogged down. Yet it's still a beautiful, affecting read.