Publication Date: April 5, 2014
In After Life Lessons by Laila Blake and L.C. Spoering, Emily is an artist who has relocated from England to New York City living with her boyfriend and his young son when the Zombie Virus breaks out. Her boyfriend had a plan to head south and when he’s lost to them, Emily and Song follow his plan with near disastrous results. When Aaron, a former Army medic, finds them huddled and dying in the back room of a gas station, he knows he can’t leave them behind. Together they face an uncertain future knowing that they’re not only at risk from the zombies but the survivors and that for both of them the future is not guaranteed.
The author, Laila Blake, gave me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
When I first read the description for After Life Lessons, I was intrigued. Blake and Spoering have written a character study of the human experience in impossible times that just happens to feature zombies as an element of danger. How insignificant do the little tragedies of daily life seem in a world where you may not survive beyond the next day?
It took a while for me to get interested in After Life Lessons. Once the story gets going, it is a beautiful tale of people thrown together by chance struggling to survive and knowing that no future is certain. Emily is 23 years old when she attaches herself to a man who lives on the road and his child is left with them by the neglectful mother. She quickly realizes that whatever cool factor she had as the hot alt girlfriend is negated by her at-home self. In the course of the novel, she works out her feelings for Sullivan through letters. The audience realizes that she felt left behind by Sullivan in life and then he sacrificed himself to save Emily and his son. She feels a huge sense of survivor’s guilt but a bigger obligation to the child just waiting for his father to return as though this is another gig on the road.
Aaron is running from his life. He fell in love with someone he simply couldn’t have and he ran to the Army. While Emily is the more developed character, what we learn about Aaron in the course of their association is fascinating. Emily and Aaron share a natural bond that both feel awkward about and both know on some level that they shouldn’t because their old lives don’t matter anymore. There is a very natural and human flow to their interaction that the author doesn’t seem to dramatize and yet seems to make even more compelling in that lack of histrionics. Both characters know that their life is now one of being on the run and helping where they can until the dreaded day when they can help no more.
Readers of this review may be screaming at me now “WHY ARE YOU GIVING ALL OF THESE SPOILERS?” None of what I’ve posted in this review is a spoiler. This is a much bigger story both emotionally and in the scope of what is happening in the world in this setting than what is in this review.
Blake and Spoering’s setting is quite appropriate for the year we’ve had. Snow and biting cold ushers us into the story and while, at least, some of the tale takes place in Ohio near the Kentucky border there is a definition of setting in the world they’re traversing being vast and cold. They are wholly alone with the beasts. Anyone striking out on their own will not survive. The simplicity of Blake’s writing style emphasizes the aching desperation of the new world Aaron, Emily and Song face. Blake and Spoering’s characters encounter a young, teen zombie. The zombie is starving so that even with food in front of her she struggles to move and Blake and Spoering leave the characters with a striking realization of what this child lost in these final moments of her existence.
After Life Lessons is truly a poignant and well-written look at life after the fall of humanity. Once the story got going it was a masterpiece of emotion stoically faced and life going on even if for the moment. The authors intend to continue this series and while I’m not sure I’ll be along for the ride, I did truly enjoy the characters and generally masterful writing of After Life Lessons. I highly recommend this novel to those who like literature and stories of the human experience.
Check out the excerpt and buy After Life Lessons by Laila Blake and L.C. Spoering on