Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dirtbag Stuff With Heart: A Review of Zero Lives Remaining

For those of us who lived through the 1980s, this cover makes a lot of promises. For me, personally, it evokes vivid memories of browsing the local video store with my dad and little sister, passing through the horror section, and marveling at the depraved artwork on the VHS cases. My sister and I regularly begged my dad to rent Ankle Biters, Critters 2, and Monkey Shines. We were completely obsessed with the movie Pigs, based solely on its revolting cover.

We caught Critters 2 on TV some years later. We agreed, it was fairly disappointing.

Unlike Critters 2 though, Zero Lives Remaining is not a disappointment. Scroll up, take a good look at the book’s cover again.

Here,” the artwork seems to whisper. “Just like good old times at Front Row Video, I promise. Just like Pigs. Just like Critters 2. Only this—this is actually gonna deliver.”

And it does. Exceedingly.

Zero Lives Remaining is the story of Tiffany Park, a teenage video game virtuoso who spends much of her time at Funcave, an arcade-pizzeria, where she dominates games like Ms. Pac-Man and Street Fighter Alpha. Video games, pizza—sounds rad so far, right? Well, meet Chris Murphy, 
the story's antagonist. He's a dumpy teenage nĂ¼-metal fan with a crush on Tiffany. Chris clings to Tiffany like a lost, racist puppy, commenting incessantly on the fact that she is Asian, calling her names like “China Girl” even though he knows she is Korean. Chris Murphy is not rad. He is, in fact, a complete piece of shit. But just wait. Turns out Funcave is haunted by the ghost of Robby Asaro, a guy who accidentally cooked himself in the kitchen's pizza oven back in 1989. In 2014, living as a ghost inside Funcave's arcade games, Robby considers Tiffany as something of a daughter-figure in his life. 

Er, afterlife. 

Anyway, weird shit starts happening at Funcave as Robby’s ghost takes measures to protect Tiffany from an increasingly offensive and stalker-y Chris. Soon, Funcave is thrown into total chaos, and the book’s wider cast of characters—including the porn-addict owner of the arcade-pizzeria—finds itself in the thick of some ghastly mayhem. Expect lots of ghost slime.

Both hilarity and gore ensue.

Zero Lives Remaining is a quick and effortless read. The book’s author, Adam Cesare, writes in a style that is both lean and smooth. Not sure if it’s more an art or science, but Cesare’s got it down. My first exposure to the guy’s writing was the 2012 novel Tribesmen. One of the things I loved most about that book was the way that Cesare managed to subvert stereotypes with his characters and deliver some pretty solid social commentary through what was essentially a gore-filled cannibal-horror romp. And Zero Lives is no different on the subversion-and-commentary front. Cesare’s got a good thing going. His works are certainly classifiable as dirtbag stuff—but dirtbag stuff with intellect, loads of heart, and complexity. How he walks simultaneously among such disparate worlds, I haven’t a clue. But let's hope he keeps it up. 

Definitely check out Zero Lives Remaining. If you’re anything like me, it’ll have you at the cover. 

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