Review: ‘Elegy for the Undead’ by Matthew Vesely

Elegy for the Undead

Elegy for the Undead is a novella that merges an apocalyptic zombie setting with the bond that exists between two young husbands, Lyle and Jude. Faced with Lyle’s ill-starred fate, they retrace the course of their relationship, hoping to find a way to exist together beyond the limitations of time and space.

And so, with the past and present overlapping, two voices battle for space. Both Jude and Lyle try to manage the demands of the impossible reality they’ve entered, transforming their fond beginnings into a point of refuge, to which they abscond. 

By recounting their life together, they address both the reader and each other, turning the narrative into something that is simultaneously voyeuristic and painfully intimate; a sort of limping dialogue. In particular, it’s their confessions regarding disloyalty and unfulfilled desires that give the prose its poignant air.

The distress, miscommunication, and frustrations of their “youthful passion” abound, but so do desire and devotion. This complex topography of feeling fosters unease and dread, which in turn feeds the very physical threat that leaps out at them. And so, a sense of doom flares out to graze both ends of their timeline.

It’s never just narrative, reflecting the perils of desire, idealistic love, and yearning. Naturally, this marriage between sense and circumstance delivers a careful examination of the anatomy of a relationship, from its strains to loosening compromises.

And yet, despite the honest thoughts that expose both their unerring affection and fevered impulsivity, we’re told about Lyle and Jude’s “deep emotional connection” more often than we’re regaled with its physical beauty. Part of the reason may be the disorientation that accompanies — and enhances — the assurance of past sentiments.

Consequently, with the narrative voice bounding up and down the timeline, what we experience is a fast-moving plot; one that can be characterized by an emotional detachment, staunching the flow of tenderness. And yet, sentiment seizes every opportunity to fight back.

Reflections of a shared intimacy flourish on the pages of Elegy for the Undead, from giving up cigarettes in order to experience each other’s taste more deeply, to the doubt burning through the memory of each other’s bodies.

At times, the story blinks too hard, losing focus. Lyle’s animosity toward a fellow student, fuelled by his lust, introduces notes of stunning sensuality. But these fail to blend into the horrors of the present, reducing the turmoil of an inevitable end. Like a panting chest, the pace — with its emotional undercurrent — falters, then soars, leaving us shaky and vertiginous.

Nevertheless, where elements of horror find a way to burst in, there’s undeniable suspense. It stems more from Lyle’s volatile state than the nature of the zombie attacks, to which we’ve been exposed through countless forms of media. With their relationship acting as the foundation on which the ultimate tragedy unfolds, self-awareness, malice, and despair cloud a once pristine connection.

Meanwhile, survivor’s guilt hardens acts of self-defense, stretching Jude’s willingness to injure Lyle in the name of his own continuity into something distorted and unreal. Then again, his understanding of his own limits is tested when the time comes, and it’s a trial that can only be passed by consolidating his heart with the future offered to it by his moribund husband.

Part horror, part literary romance, Elegy for the Undead serves as a rumination on love, with its fierce consequences and equally forceful hopes. More of a tangle than a safety net, it ends up reframing the periphery of the world as it unravels.

Publication date: October 13, 2020 (Lanternfish Press)


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