Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

25 Mar 2011

(Short Story) Zora and the Zombie by: Andy Duncan

(Reaction) Sex, Art and the Undead by: Antonio Conejos

Zora and the Zombie begins with an affirmation that some truths are known only to females. Males may gain access to this truth but only through women, 'What is the truth?' the houngan shouted over the drums. The mambo, in response, flung open her white dress... The first man in line shuffled forward on his knees to kiss the truth that glistened between the mambo's things.

At first, Zora (who, according to Duncan, is supposed to be Zora Neale Hurston) is not a purveyor of truth but rather a seeker of it; sent on assignment to Haiti to write thrilling accounts of the native beliefs, I'm just being paid to do folklore on this trip. She is miffed to discover that most of the sensational Haitian traditions have already been documented and participated in by others, Zora had learned just that morning that... self-proclaimed anthropologist Katherine Dunham... witnessed this very truth ceremony a year ago.

In a sense then, Zora's mission is exploitive; in the mildly exploitive sense of one who recounts garish scenes of atavism for profit. Ironically though, it is Zora who is in danger of being exploited, by one of the ancient beliefs she is tasked with documenting.

Erzulie, a sexual bogeywoman of Haitian myth, requires something of Zora.The lure to hook Zora in is the most sensational of Haiti's traditional practices - zombification, not in any best-seller ever served up to the Haiti-loving American public had anyone ever included a photograph of a Zombie.

Erzulie's power stems from her flagrant sexuality, as evident and potent as a heavy perfume. This sexuality constantly grates on Zora, even though she does not yet realize who Freida really is. It is who Freida first tells Zora of the zombie Felicia, her heavy necklace clanking into Zora's shoulder. Later at their meeting on the bus, Freida's physical transgression is even more intimate, ...Freida pressed against her anyway, thrust her pelvis forward against the older woman's bosom. Zora felt Freida's heat through the thin material.

Erzulie then represents one form of women's power, the ability to entrance, seduce and captivate. Just as the men in the short story's opening look to, kiss the truth between the mambo's thighs, so too do men look to Erzulie for her feminine wiles.

Felicia the zombie though serve as a counterpoint to Erzulie. Crucially, Felicia may have been a victim of man. Erzulie, explains Felicia Felix-Mentor to Zora, No! The gods did not take her powers away... Some man, and only a man, did that. Of course Erzulie is no man's prey; it is she who preys on them.

Moreover, Felicia is completely without any sexual prowess, almost to the point of losing her femininity, for woman she [Felicia] was; Zora would resist labeling her as all Haiti had done... The broad lumpish face around them [Felicia's eyes] might have been attractive had its muscles displayed any of the tension common to animal life. Where Erzulie exudes sexuality, Felicia is innocent of that uniquely feminine power, she was found squatting in the road, she was as naked as all mankind.

What Felicia has though which Erzulie lacks is the power to express herself through writing, to perpetuate truths beyond merely a spoken medium. Thus Felicia scratches out mi haut mi bas in the sand and this is eventually deciphered by Zora as half high, half low; a key phrase of truth to ward off the Sect Rouge. Indeed, Zora herself affirms that Felicia is a writer too.

Erzulie and Felicia provide contrasting examples of the power of women. Zora is the synthesis of these two truths as she is in control of both her sexuality and her talent for expresion.

Zora early on realized how to utilize her sexuality, Since she was a sprat of thirteen sashaying around the gatepost in Eatonville, slowing Yankees aboil for Winter Park or Sunken Gardens or the Weeki Wachee with a wink and a wave, Zora had viewed sexuality, like other talents, as a bank of backstage switches to be flipped separately or together to achieve specific effects.... Indeed, she consciously uses her sexuality to gain access to Felicia. As to her powers of expression, Zora was precisely sent to Haiti to use her powers of expression, to write back home of the things she has seen.

Zora's synthesis of sexuality and expression is more powerful than Erzulie's siren's call. Erzulie consumes men, exposing their frailty, but she also needs men to continue, The old man slumped in his chair... 'They do not last any time, do they?' she [Erzulie] murmured... 'Poor pretty things.' Zora is dismissive of Eruzlie's power noting disdainfully, How dependent you are... on men.' In the end, Zora is more powerful than Erzulie and banishes her (Erzulie) with the threat of her (Zora's) art, well, then I will forget about you, and you will never be in my book.

After dispatching Erzulie, Zora faces one more threat in the form of the Sect Rogue, a violent, hooded secret society who accost her on the road at night. This is most likely the people who turned Felicia into a zombie as Zora realizes in a flash of insight that the Sect Rogue's passwords are the words taught to her by Felicia, mi haut, mi bas.

Yet Zora refuses to say the password, to cave in to the Sect Rouge. She would believe in Zombies, a little, and in Erzulie, perhaps, a little more. But she would not believe in the Sect Rogue, in blood-oathed societies of men. She walked forward again, of her own free will, and the red-robed figures stood motionless as she passed among them.

Zora's final act is confirmation of her twin truths as well as the power of belief.

Review:

An interesting enough story with a creative premise. It was nominated for a 2005 Nebula Award under the Novelette catagory. Going beyond the story itself, that it was nominated for a Nebula suggests just how open ended genre classification is. And really, whats the difference between a short story, a long short story, a novella, and a novellete?

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