I received this book free from the author in return for an honest review.
From the very beginning, stories about the living dead have been more about exploring the human experience (how one deals emotionally and psychologically with this type of “outbreak”) than they have the actual walking dead themselves. In that way, it’s hard to find fresh, new themes for the genre or alter the zombie lore enough that it feels like a natural progression, yet doesn’t go too far to alienate hardcore fans. Michael W. Garza attempts to do a little of both in his novel The Hand That Feeds: A Horror Novel, but the book ultimately falls short of capturing the originality inherent in the very intriguing premise.
Right from the start, we’re thrust into the life-altering change in John and Angela’s young child, Alex, who they find dying out in the fields of their home. After the local doctor declares him dead, Alex wakes up, surprising and scaring both John and Angela, who couldn’t be more at odds in accepting their son’s new condition, fighting over what’s right and what’s necessary. Should these loving, devoted parents do whatever they have to to keep their son alive, even if that means feeding him warm human flesh?
In this question, the story has great potential. Watching as Angela grows increasingly mad over keeping her son alive is a fantastic hook, as is the argument over the right and wrong aspects of finding people to feed to him, even after he inadvertently begins a plague when one of his main courses gets away. I was also impressed by the descriptive nature of the book, from Alex’s initial transformation to the details of the decomposition of the zombies at large. The book does a good job of making us believe this world, and the fear and desperation that goes along with it.
However, after digging a little into the psychology of how far parents should go in protecting their flesh and blood, the second act diminishes this idea in favor of John’s overly drawn-out race through the zombie-infected city to return home to his wife and child before someone finds out who actually started the plague. From where the story begins (and ends), this section of the novel seems extremely out of place and introduces us to characters that, in the end, have no real purpose. In most cases, introducing us to supporting characters like this are meant to help the protagonist understand and come to terms with his inner conflict, but the book fails to explore this dynamic, making these characters nothing more than unnecessary roadblocks.
Choosing this action-oriented segue over the psychological complexities of the premise, I feel, does the book a disservice. Angela’s maddening dynamic was far more interesting to me. I would have much preferred going deeper into her mind than dealing with John’s external challenges. If we had, perhaps the climax wouldn’t have felt a little forced and unnatural. I didn’t believe that these characters would go to the lengths that they do because I wasn’t given time to know them, or understand them enough to root for them. It’s a shame, too, because the last few lines of the novel are quite intriguing (and weirdly fun). But because there’s no clear change in any of the character’s actions or beliefs from beginning to end, it all falls a little bit flat.
If you like this genre, go ahead and give it a shot, but for me, the idea was there, the descriptions were well done, but the emotional impact needed to rise above the best of the best fell extremely short of where it should have been.
My Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
Title: The Hand That Feeds: A Horror Novel
Author: Michael W. Garza
Publisher: Severed Press (August 29, 2013)
Length: 212 pages