Review: Pariah by Bob Fingerman

EDITORS NOTE: I read Pariah and interviewed Bob Fingerman a year ago with the intention of writing a feature on the author and his second novel for Rue Morgue Magazine or possibly Famous Monsters of Filmland. Unfortunately, I conducted the interview a week before starting graduate school, which quickly consumed my life. And even though I made promises to myself and Bob that I would use my vacation time to complete the piece, the article simply fell to the wayside, as did The Crawlspace overall.

Fast forward to the present. Grad school is still an oppressive blanket of academic responsibility, however one cannot simply abandon what they love in life to the black hole of higher education. Therefore, The Crawlspace was reanimated, and with it some unfulfilled promises. Pariah is an exceptional novel, and one that deserves the highest praise, even if that praise is one year too late. Bob gave up his valuable time to conduct an interview that never saw the light of day, and for that I hope he might be able to forgive me. So, without further adieu, a better-late-than-never look at Bob Fingerman’s Pariah.

Review written by Jess Peacock

“The weird thing about Pariah,” author Bob Fingerman explains, “is that I think it’s more a novel with zombies than a zombie novel.” Please do not mistake Fingerman’s assessment of his latest book as a ploy to distance himself from the horror label, the strategy of an author seeking a more market friendly thriller tag for his work. Pariah is a grim, claustrophobic, darkly humorous look at the end of the world at the hands (and teeth) of the ambulatory dead, with all of the unrelenting violence, gore, and intensity that one would expect from the sub-genre. Fingerman takes it a step further, however, by creating an ensemble cast of characters and trapping them in an Upper East Side apartment complex in New York City while examining the results of a maddening and monotonous life of survival through their eyes.

Rather than building elaborate set pieces showcasing the final stand of mankind against the walking dead, Fingerman constructs his story through the drudgery of the day-to-day, building tension as the cast interacts, clashes, and occasionally cooperates. Ultimately, these are people with no plan or goal to speak of, no brighter future just around the corner, possessed only of a soul crushing certainty that their efforts have absolutely no chance of paying off in the end. This caustic atmosphere paves the way for Fingerman to tease out his uniquely black brand of humor as a way to highlight the humanity of most of the survivors, with the zombies working in the background as a frame to facilitate the compelling and riveting performances within the apartment complex.

This daily grind is dramatically disrupted, however, when, approximately halfway through the novel, Fingerman introduces Mona into the mix, a lone teenage girl who is able to walk amongst the zombie hordes unscathed. This sudden shift in the narrative radically propels the story forward, as Mona is looked upon with eyes of fear, lust, and messianic hope (biblical images of her parting the sea of the dead abound) as her presence and apparent power over the zombies succeeds in bringing some semblance of comfort and normalcy into the lives of the survivors.

While Pariah is in fact just one more zombie novel on the already crowded undead bookshelf (although the story itself was planned as a graphic novel fifteen years ago), Fingerman points out one salient truth: “Once you acknowledge that you’re playing with George Romero’s toys, then every kid can play with those toys differently.” And it is those differences that elevate Pariah beyond a standard us versus them fight for survival into a piece of literature that transcends the zombie sub-genre and stands on its own as a superior work of art.