Reviews of Zed

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Location: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

I am an academic, a lesbian who IS married, 17 years, and a full time wheelchair user, now power chair user. I write about disability issues on the blog Screw Bronze and up to Nov. 2008 on BBC's OUCH! Currently I am working on the postcard project (sending out a postcard to everyone who wants/needs one! Over 5,300 sent. To get a postcard for free click the link below!). Yeah, I'm terminal, I'm end stage, I have days without hope - so similar to all those years of retail jobs during Xmas. Hee.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

October Review from RainTaxi


Twenty bucks says that Elizabeth's McClung's hellishly engaging first novel never makes it to film--at least not intact--which is sad. Zed not only merits cinematic interpretation, it demands it. Set in "the Tower," a rickety, 22-story apartment building more or less abandoned by the city it once occupied, the book opens with a typical day in the life of its titular protagonist: a fully emancipated (read: "urban feral") 12-year-old girl who makes a living trading everything from candle stubs and broken toaster ovens to information, drugs, and cash among the building's residents: a fascinating assortment of eccentrics, deviants, criminals, wounded souls, vulnerable crackpots, and various combinations thereof, most of whom stay simply because they lack the means to go elsewhere.

For Zed, the Tower is the world, the deal everything, and she always keeps her part of the bargain--not that she's an angel, by any means. When Charles, the toddler son of one of the building's most successful welfare moms, begs silently for a piece of the cake Zed's eating, she ignores him. Afterward, the narrator observes: "Children at best confused her, but, more often, like this, sickened her. How could they stand to be so dependent? For Charles to hold out his hand with nothing to trade, it was beyond understanding." Worse still, she's in all kinds of cahoots with Luc, the preternaturally charming drug dealer and leader of thugs who rules the building with an iron fist and the kind of casual amorality that leads him not only to take bets on future suicides, but to make them more likely.

Still, Zed joins the Father--the Tower's would-be spiritual advisor--when he tries to prevent an angry mob whipped into a frenzy by Luc from lynching an innocent man for Charles's murder. After a couple more little kids are found dead, Zed's curiosity moves her to start looking for answers, leading her into a direct confrontation with her one-time mentor and his minions and eventual building-wide catastrophe. McClung milks the novel's extended climax for all it's worth, slipping into a real-time mode that allows for maximum evocation of ancient, all-consuming evil, rotting corpses, charred flesh, and smoke so acridly real, we can feel it filling Zed's lungs--and ours.

So what's to stop some intrepid director from giving the novel the cinematic treatment it so richly deserves? Well, remember what David Cronenberg said about Naked Lunch: a literal film version would cost a billion dollars and be banned in every country in the world. Zed wouldn't cost half as much, but would easily be twice as banned--if only for the nail gun scene and its aftermath. Plus, while it offers horrors galore and a futuristic flair, it is essentially literary fiction--rich, multi-layered, and bursting at the seams with metaphor. In the end, Zed seems no less than a modern-day incarnation of Maat--the ancient Egyptian goddess of justice (or balance, depending). Luc's avatar is a little more obvious from the get-go (consider the name). Mythic status notwithstanding, both characters--and a few others who survive--are far too compelling to release after a single novel, especially one that resists closure so ferociously, practically demanding a sequel--or two.

By Rod Smith

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Globe and Mail Review of Zed by Elizabeth McClung

Jan. 21, 2006

The agony and . . . well, the agony


By Elizabeth McClung

Arsenal Pulp, 280 pages, $24.95

Born in Victoria, B.C., and currently living in Wales, Elizabeth McClung gives us a first novel to dissect the heartfelt and flay the familiar. I'm still in recovery.

Zed inhabits a padlocked concrete room in the basement of a crumbling, filthy, 20-storey apartment tower filled with drug addicts, scammers, perverts, cat murderers, welfare poor and the mentally ill. It's a war zone abandoned by peacekeepers. Beside Zed's bed is a box holding her emergency supplies: "cigarettes . . . cocaine, three leather-bound books, a box of candles, two bottles of whisky, and $1,624."

Zed is 12. Unfettered by family or back-story, she lives by feral cunning, the point of a switchblade and a thriving trade in found objects. Suspend your disbelief; this story expertly employs the implausibility of life -- the muttered "unbelievable" as you read the morning paper.

McClung's story engine races pedal-to-the-floor, fuelled by dialogue that moves from hard-boiled to mock-poetic, from profane to outright hysterical. In the first 100 pages, dwellers in "the Tower" experience a suicide, a bathtub drowning, the grisly murder of two boys, and the tossing of two men and several cats to their deaths from the roof.

Other residents merely get sliced up a little. Scraping human remains from the pavement, a city cleanup crew debates whether the cops should be called. Police and do-gooders gave up on the Tower long ago.

Secondary characters (those surviving the first act) include drug kingpin and all-round puppet master Luc, a bookish Professor, a spuriously pious Father, a maggot-infested dumpster diver named Rat, a loopy resident psychic and a Buddhist pothead. Not one is to be trusted.

Groceries come no charge. "The Truck had two hands painted on the side, along with the phrase, Feeding Each Other. The Townies paid to have it driven out here every two weeks, filled with the bounty of dented cans and items just past expiration date. . . . There use to be a food shelter downtown . . . until property prices started to fall. After that they decided to deliver."

As the truck arrives and residents battle for their share of weevily rice and stale doughnuts, the scene recalls news clips from Third World famine zones.

Things move to outright horror. Zed discovers a sacrificial altar in the sub-sub-basement, surrounded by an audience of seated corpses in varying stages of decay. It's Luc's secret psychopathic playroom. We move on to the Feast of the Dead.

Mysterious cuts of meat are consumed. The meal is preceded by a spectacularly sordid orgy, which Zed and a few others observe from a darkened doorway. Now we're firmly in allegory territory, but the animals are light years from the farm.

Luc needs some information that Zed won't share. He sets out to make her talk. His method involves a frame of four-by-fours, restraints, a knife, salt and a power tool.

McClung's unorthodox use of a 12-year-old may at this point lose her some readers -- and that will be a shame. If you can hang on through the agony and absorb what comes after, something rare will happen. You'll be shocked and appalled by a Canadian first novel. I don't mean offended or dismayed. I mean pierced through your self-preserving heart with a nail gun. Anger is finally what McClung wants from you, and she'll exact it. The anger is equally hers, and (if her afterword is any indication) it's personal.

This is a novel for all innocent victims; especially children, though they shouldn't be left alone with it. Zed is a tale to be pondered by all those who wield power over the vulnerable. McClung's plot twists and images wrestle the emotions before the intellect can pin them down, but when her message at last emerges from the blood and bedlam the effect is devastating: Terror begins at home. Then it grows.

Jim Bartley is The Globe and Mail's first-fiction reviewer.