Self-loathing is just as addictive and pleasurable as any other drug; awful when it’s gone yet comforting in the moment. It lets you admit that life sucks and won’t change because you suck, so there’s really no reason to bother trying. Stay awful and be awful and then shrug away because that’s normal now.
The Last Weekend by Nick Mamatas is kind of like self loathing in that it’s 250 pages of depressing self indulgence. It’s a dark, bleak book, yet in a good way, if such a thing can be good. I’m reminded of Horns by Joe Hill, which was another novel that took absolute pleasure in being void of pleasure.
I liked that book too.
The difference here, besides The Last Weekend being a zombie novel while Horns was some kind of urban fantasy affair, is that Vasilis “Billy” Kostopolos is a passive character who just wants to drink whereas Ig did his best to be proactive. Billy is a depressed alcoholic and a failed writer to boot, someone that would rather wax poetic about the world while quoting obscure literature than actually doing anything. I must say, I can relate, though I’m not as well-read as Billy and keep what few quotes I do know to myself in fear that I’ll somehow botch them and then look like a huge idiot. Everything else though? Yeah, me and him could be friends for an evening until we ultimately grew sick of each other, which would absolutely happen.
Billy is a character who, when he looks at women, likes to make up stories about their sex history because he’s a misogynist. Billy is the kind of character who spends more time thinking about the human condition and how to write about it than actually writing. Billy is the kind of character who thinks he wants happiness yet really doesn’t because being unhappy is just easier.
To call him an antihero would be a mistake; he does too little to be an anti anything. He’s the star of his own first-person past narrative, the one he’s writing as you read, yet he always comes off as sitting in the passenger seat and along for the ride.
That’s not a bad thing though, because the ride is enjoyable. I prefer to take shotgun over driving anyways, so I suppose I relate to ol’ Billy on that level too.
The back story to The Last Weekend is that one day the dead started crawling up from the ground and killing everyone. It’s a zombie story. Billy is stuck in Frisco, which thanks to some nonsense wound up being fairly safe as far as things go. The city has electricity, and the internet still mostly works when you want it to, and there’s even a kind of government around to keep people in check. Sort of.
It should be noted that this zombie apocalypse has only affected the United States, which quickly became ostracized as other countries feared its immigrants might spread the disease.
The Last Weekend was billed to me as a horror novel, though it’s hardly one of those. That too isn’t a bad thing, because zombies really do work better as the backdrop for characters and not the immediate threat. We’re now at a point where making an earnest zombie anything just comes off as boring unless it’s a comedy, and this certainly isn’t one of those.
I never read The Walking Dead, but I played the Telltale game and find The Last Weekend in a similar position, though this time the characters aren’t likeable.
However, unlikeable characters can be engaging and interesting, and I’d say everyone in this novel hits one or the other. Billy himself is a fascinating dumpster of a human being, and the book travels from his humble beginnings to his current position as he stumbles his way through the zombie apocalypse. He is quick to point out that being in first-person past, any dangers and cliffhangers don’t matter since he obviously survives them.
The novel takes an every-other-chapter approach (for the most part) where the odd chapters are in the “present” zombie apocalypse and the even chapters are Billy’s back story. In the present, Billy is a driller, someone paid by the city to go around and kill zombies before they rise from the dead. This generally means showing up to a house right before someone dies and then putting a hole in their heads right as they take their last breath. It doesn’t win him many friends.
The occupation is gruesome and depressing, yet a fun take on the zombie formula. The Last Weekend might not be a horror novel, and it might not have all that many zombies in it when you get right down to it, but it at least does something different with the backdrop.
The zombies too are different in their own little ways, though saying more might spoil things. I’d rather not do that.
In the even chapters, Billy goes through his past and how he arrived in Frisco. There’s a certain amount of cliché to his back story, which of course involves a girl, yet as it goes on, it diverges further and further from what readers might expect. And hell, the parts that have been done before are at least done exceptionally well here.
I’m not really sure which parts of the book I like more. The present chapters look at the breakdown of society while the past chapters look at the breakdown of the main character, and both are really compelling. I suppose the present chapters have more interesting characters, what with the zombie apocalypse bringing all sorts out of the woodwork, yet their focus on how and why the zombies exist at all isn’t that interesting. There are rarely any good answers to why supernatural stuff happens. Still, it’s a believable thing to fixate on, and it’s all handled well enough at the end. I’m not complaining.
The only reason this package manages to work, I think, is because Nick Mamatas nails first-person past writing and Billy’s voice throughout. The more you learn about Billy, the more this feels like his auto-biography and less like a book.
Basically, it works because it feels genuine.
The Last Weekend is a book I tore through in three or four days and always finished a session feeling a little gross. I can say the same about Horns, yet this zombie-apocalypse doesn’t have any of the gore or rape; in fact, it has very little in the ways of shock. Instead, it’s the bleak tone, the vile exaltation in feeling miserable as Billy types up what is his best work in a world that has no one left to read it.
I really, really liked this book. I know for a damn fact that it’s not for everyone, but damn did I enjoy this ride.