I’d heard much more about this book than any other–with the exception of some King novels–before I got around to reading it. Keene is considered one of the grandmasters of modern, thrilling horror, somewhat prolific and officially recognized within the writing world. Many words have been spilled about this particular book and about Keene himself. Frankly, he’s an occasionally combative and always knowledgeable figure in the halls of horror fiction. I think all that is supposed to mean ‘controversial,’ but I think he’s a pretty regular dude.
“The Rising” features Jim Thurmond, a sort of everyman who’s been pinned down by a zombie apocalypse and has lost his new wife and child to the undead. He’s a divorcee, however, and has additionally lost all hope for his ex-wife and young son have survived. Until he gets a very brief phone call forcing him out of his hole and on the road to rescue his son. Thurmond is the most developed character and clearly the central protagonist. His emotional journey is the most wrenching. He’s followed by Frankie, a drug-addicted prostitute. Her story has a definitive, redemptive arc. Martin is probably the least developed, an aging priest whose self-assigned purpose is to help Thurmond along. Since Keene is unafraid to murder his characters, there’s some question, during the entire novel, about who will survive and who won’t. The first few chapters can come across as somewhat slow and that’s because Keene is setting a particularly large stage. There are a number of secondary characters and plots that need to be put in place for the horror show that is to follow. It makes sense later, but it can be a bit of a slog to get there.
Once Baker, Frankie, Martin, and the obligatory rogue military unit are established, the pace increases exponentially. Keene takes virtually all the modern zombie tropes—as well as one critical aspect of zombies past—and spins up the ante on the nightmare. No one is spared the horror of the world collapsing and there’s a nice mix of undead and living motivation. Often, zombie stories are best when the walking dead are treated like a natural disaster. This allows the living characters to drive the plot. Keene puts a more adversarial spin on that idea, where the rising dead are unmistakably antagonists with some motivations of their own. I truly enjoyed the book, it sits well with other zombie media that I’ve enjoyed and that makes perfect sense to me since the book was released around the same time and influenced by the same lore that I’d been enjoying.
Now, about that ending…
It’s a good ending. Anyone who says otherwise is looking for a reading experience that holds their hand and leads them to an obvious conclusion.