He had me at “like a gang of schoolyard bullies…”


“Let me tell you a little story…we’re all going to die.”

Finally, we have an author with enough imagination to label his victims something other than “zombies” and to create a virus with a full spectrum of symptoms.  Not only has Artie Cabrera envisioned a world where Deviants roam the borough of Queens, he has the audacity to provide an intriguing and plausible origin for our post-apocalyptic future.

The Journals of Charles Dudley and Side Effects chronicle the aftermath of the release of a mysterious virus.  At least that’s what Charles Dudley can determine as he wanders through the wreckage of his old neighborhood.

Artie1We start with Charlie burying the remains of his best friend in a guitar case, and hosing the rest of him into the sewer.  He can’t believe he could ever do something so revulsive, and yet every day brings some new debasement, some new degradation that must be faced unflinchingly.  And yet, every day Charlie does what’s necessary to survive then berates himself for becoming a monster.  He learns he must assess his life in terms of today and tomorrow; yesterday has nothing to do with it.

Cabrera is slick, creating a narrative that exists solely in the mind of our hero.  Charlie’s journal comes complete with snarky side comments, and the wishful elaboration of details.  He tells two tales:  the nasty, ugly, gory struggle to survive the day, and the nasty, ugly, gory struggle to survive childhood.

As Charlie comes to terms with his surroundings, he begins to reflect on life before.  Life is shitty, and Charlie is brutally honest about the details.  His story is both stark and vivid, a man as broken as the world outside.  His life has been defined by his father and as he contemplates his upbringing, he begins to realize how angry his father was, how angry he is.  The question:  does he know how much like his father he has become?

Cabrera captures the internal voice. You know that voice in your head every morning, grumbling on the way to work.  This is not the voice of the objective observer. It is a running commentary on everything you see, everything you hear, taste, touch and smell.  It is a tangle between the calm recitation of fact and the strangled half-finished thought. Cabrera’s writing is taut, funny and sarcastic. He makes Dudley’s observations into shards of glass reflecting the decay around him.

I’m not sure why Side Effects was published after I’m Not Dead.  Its random back references to events in I’m Not Dead would be the perfect lead in to Charles Dudley’s journals.  Side Effects will suck the reader in, offering one last gasp before descending into chaos.

An Extra Goody