Sheldon Funk is having a rough go of things.
His most meaningful relationship right now is with his cat, and he is under no illusions about its sustainability.
“I don’t think cats like anyone. They’re only biding time until they evolve thumbs. Then we’re probably doomed.”
Career-wise, er, job-wise, he’s having doubts.
“You haven’t honestly withstood career humiliation until you’ve been yelled at by an epithet-spewing German director on a low budget tax-dodge of a horror film for not bringing the necessary level of terror to your portrayal of scared victim number four.”
And even though she is suffering from dementia, the early stages of Alzheimer’s, his mother is still waiting for him to meet the right girl, the one who will convince him that his attraction to men is just a passing phase.
“These were idle thoughts, envisioned over interminable evenings as Mom warbled her merry way through her personal haze of theocratic conspiracies and prevailing discombobulation.”
Sheldon (or, Shel, which is what a friend might call him) is on his own, really.
“As with Mom’s constant nattering on how disappointing I had turned out to be, I had acclimated myself to a life of loneliness without realizing it.”
And, then, he died.
“My heart, my engine, my valentine lay across the room from me, immobile, unloved, separate and apart from its warm housing, finally experiencing the world on its own.”
Which was bad enough.
But, then, he became un-dead.
“It’s hard to define what something is when it’s the only example of its kind. All I can do is compare myself to an existing standard of reality. No one realizes that, while I do indeed exist in physical form on this material plane, I cannot be expected to adhere to all the immutable laws that pertain to this reality.”
If you think you’re confused, imagine how Shel(l) feels.
“A dried-up peapod husk mysteriously called back into service, brimming with vegetable matter and nonplussed at the odd turn of events.”
Because, oh, my, if Sheldon had problems before, they’ve certainly taken on a new slant.
“I don’t believe anyone could have a real conception of horror until he has witnessed a fly hatch under his own skin and burrow itself out.”
Yes, there is the question of bodily decay, practical matters related to hunger.
“I needed to feed and quick. Morality be damned; when I was perilously close to eating my cat, the ethicality of homicide could be put aside for a time.”
But, fortunately, he has a secret weapon.
“They can take away my organs, I thought, but they can never take away my sense of irony.”
And that’s where Corey Redekop comes in.
Because this novel is wordy-in-all-the-right-ways, pulling the reader close to Sheldon with its cleverness.
(And, its kindheartedness, but I can’t expect you to believe that: I know.)
Readers familiar with his novel, Shelf Monkey, might sense a similarity in style or outlook; you could make a case that Thomas Friesen (early Thomas Friesen, meaning early chapters) has a lot in common with Sheldon Funk (early and late Sheldon Funk), but Husk is a different animal altogether.
And, yet, where one would imagine the author of Shelf Monkey holed up in a warren of novels, one imagines the author of Husk in a dark room with George Romero and Wes Craven movies.
And readers who are familiar with these films will find Husk‘s imagery and style a natural fit. (The ECW Press edition is complete with blood spatter, sparingly employed.)
There are scenes which are, although, yes, ironic and humorous, visceral and, well, bloody. What happens to a man’s insides when his body parts are really just props? It’s not pretty. (And then there is the Funk-y smell, right?)
If there are times when you have to look away from those films or peek between your fingers, you will need to blink and avert your gaze from Husk as well. And, if you deliberately never watch them? Husk is probably not be the book for you.
But with talk of zombies? It’s the perfect opportunity for social commentary.
Take a shopping mall.
Take a commuter bus.
Take Sheldon. Whose existence is arguably husk-like, Shel(l)-like even before he is dead and un-dead, when he is alive. (I mean, he’s an actor — he chose a profession which depends on his ability to pretend to be someone else — and he’s a closeted gay man.)
Take Sheldon’s mom. Whose nursing home existence begs for parallels with the living dead, and that comes with a mess of questions about mortality and morality.
Sometimes in Husk, this commentary is clear as, for instance, with Sheldon’s musings on the way that a pack of zombies (is ‘pack’ the right word?) behaves:
“They would never question their instincts.
There was no room for insight or compromise in their world view. It was consume, and wait to consume again.
I suddenly understood the appeal of the Republican Party.”
But mostly, it’s subtle:
“Taking things for granted is a core component of the human experience.”
Husk is what happens when ‘life’ becomes ‘experience’, when ‘innocence’ becomes ironic-ified.
(And I really hope that all these quotes show how smart and funny it is. For despite the evidence before me, Sheldon is a husk with a heart, and I am smitten.)