Review: Raising Stony Mayhall

Review: Raising Stony Mayhall

A different sort of zombie novel

The zombie thing is pretty well played out at this point. But there is still room for creative and innovative use of the zombie trope, which is clearly what author Daryl Gregory was aiming for in Raising Stony Mayhall. (In fact, one of my few complaints about the book is that at times, Gregory does a little too much self-conscious "breaking the fourth wall" winking at the camera in this respect.)

The story begins with the Mayhall family's discovery of a zombie infant in a rural Ohio snowbank. They take him in, hide him from the authorities, name him Stony, and raise him as a secret part of the family. Against all conventional wisdom, Stony grows from an infant to a young man. 
 
Raising Stony Mayhall is an alternate history, one in which the zombie apocalypse happened in the late 1960s. This was an interesting choice on the part of the author. It's understandable to set the zombie apocalypse in the past in terms of the narrative, such that the story starts where the apocalypse leaves off. (Colson Whitehead does the same thing in Zone One, although to far better effect.) But why set the entire novel so far in the past? 

This question distracted me terribly throughout the book. Part of the answer is found at the end. The narrative jumps forward decades at a time, so that by the end of the story, it has caught up to our present day. I think another likely answer is that it gave the book the borrowed glow of nostalgia, which also helps make Stony (by association) seem utterly harmless, even normal.
 
Gregory toys with a lot of tropes in this book, including the idea of "Zombie Jesus." In that way it reminded me of "Shaun of the Dead," although Raising Stony Mayhall rarely plays zombie tropes just for laughs, and has fewer winks to pop culture. There is a similar mechanism at work, however. Which is to say that the more you know about zombies in pop culture, the more you will enjoy this book.
 
A foreknowledge of zombies is not, however, required. One of the main themes of the book is the idea of belonging: who belongs where, and why, and what happens when they reject that belonging. It's about "looking in from the outside" as much as it is about zombies. Which is why, even though it's not marketed as a Young Adult book, I think this would be a great book for teens.