Verdict: Funny and weird, STONEWALL VALLEY is an interesting little genre exercise.
Biff Christen is a smart-talking juvenile delinquent in a world where delinquency, and for that matter most other things, is not tolerated. Stonewall Valley is a sleepy small town in a horrifying fascist police state some time far in the future, where knowledge of philosophy and history have been purged from the collective consciousness. Into this dystopian nightmare comes a sudden onslaught of walking dead, a crisis which Biff was not even aware he was practically born for. As it turns out, there’s actually a lot he’s not aware of.
Ulysses Rubin Lüersen’s STONEWALL VALLEY seems timed perfectly with both peak-dystopia and peak-zombies in YA literature, and one can’t help but feel that this juxtaposition is a cheeky nod to the ubiquity of both. And if you want a dystopia in your zombie book, and vice versa, this book does indeed deliver on both fronts. There is some pretty decent humor here and there too, although the over-the-top fake commercials for the dystopian society’s fast food chain are rather on-the-nose.
But STONEWALL VALLEY is almost too perfect of an example of both genres. The zombies, for their part, are so rote that characters literally learn how to take them down from an ancient banned document called Night of the Living Dead. But zombies being cliches is an accepted literary convention: the real failure of originality lies in the book’s other genre.
The dystopia is fairly generic: that sort of brutal, hyper-capitalist, anti-intellectual totalitarian hellhole that we’ve basically come to expect by this point. The hero, Biff Christen, is that same rebellious, curious-minded, right-all-the-time protagonist that populates far too many dystopian stories. A heavily authoritarian Christian-fundamentalist straw-man named Agnes acts as Biff’s foil, and she’s given she’s given frustratingly little characterization beyond her over-the-top evil, as she acts as a stand-in for the state. Like the characters, the story hits too many of the familiar beats of the generic dystopian narrative, complete with the enlightening reconnection with the past (in this case, mostly The Beatles.)
But this story certainly isn’t all so rote. The most genuine and original part of the story is also probably the best – the forbidden romance between two characters and the love triangle that emerges when one of them is forced into a sham-marriage. This part of the story, much of it related in flashbacks, is genuinely heartbreaking, to the extent that it outshines much of the rest of the text.
Sometimes goofy and entertaining, and sometimes frustratingly by-the-book, STONEWALL VALLEY never quite rises above its somewhat obvious source materials. The thin characterizations and adherence to genre convention mar a narrative that is far too ridiculous for its own good.
Funny and weird, STONEWALL VALLEY is an interesting little genre exercise.
Written by Chaz Baker for IndieReader.