The Listeners by Harrison Demchick
[Released: December 17th 2012]
Before I write anything else, I just have to say that Harrison Demchick is perhaps the greatest name of all time. Kudos to the author on that front.
Anyways, on with the review. The Listeners is Demchick’s debut, and it follows a young teenage boy named Daniel as an epidemic ‘plague’ hits America. No one knows what started this plague, what spreads it or what cures it, all they know is that it is a highly contagious disease of which the symptoms are huge, exploding boils and a general crazy mentality. This isn’t a down and out zombie apocalypse story, but it covers a lot of similar ground.
Then the shit really begins to hit the fan as, after the evacuation of the doctors and a lengthy quarantine, the governmental aid begins to disintegrate, forcing Daniel’s mother to leave their apartment to try and find some toilet paper…but she never returns. The boy, alone and overwhelmed, becomes momentarily robotic; he carries out his daily routine of eating his breakfast, lunch and dinner and going to sleep at his usual bedtime. That is until one day, as he peers through his kitchen window at the decaying world outside, he is shot at by a dying man driven insane by the plague from the street below.
Police are nearby and manage to kill the sicko that fired the gun (a ‘sicko’ is what the infected people are affectionately dubbed). Using the ruse that they are checking to see whether he is hurt or not, the policemen demand that all firearms Daniel or his mother own are to be surrendered to them for safety precautions…before promptly leaving without offering any further support.
Before he can think too much on the possibly heartless intentions of the police, a couple of members of the ‘Listeners’ enter Daniel’s apartment. The Listeners are a one-eared gang who purposefully pull a Mr Blonde on themselves to symbolise that they only listen to the ‘truth’, and that they reject the lies that the government and police forcibly feed America; one ear remains to hear the truth, one ear removed to block out the lies. They believe that the police are worsening matters and that they should fight not only against the illness, but the law too. Coincidentally, these Listeners witnessed what had just happened to Daniel and decided to follow suit in order to see what damage the cops had left behind. With the cold, uncaring cruelty of the police still fresh in the teenager’s mind, the two gang members spy the perfect oppurtunity to recruit him as a Listener, and lead him to their hideout.
The rest of the novel is like Lord of the Flies meets 28 Days Later as Daniel settles in with a gang of murderers, thieves and psychopaths amidst the backdrop of a hellish apocalypse. Although hesitant at first, the easily manipulated teenager soon sees this paranoid, violent cult in a new light, and begins to accept their hatred for the police as well as the sickos.
This novel is quite ambitious, simultaneously demonstrating the allure of gang culture with a coming-of-age tale in a zombie-infested world. The plot itself is fairly well structured, and the use of differing perspectives weaving in and out of the main narrative was well executed.
I had a bit of a problem with the characters, as they were all a little clichéd. There was also an occasional bout of uneven prose. This being said, the gorier parts of the book were very well written and often had me recoiling and wincing as boils popped and heads exploded.
Overall I thought the novel was enjoyable as it was something I had never read before. The plot would have been fantastic as a screenplay (which I hear is a format that Demchick is more familiar with). Perfect for horror fans.