Although the title, Zombies at Tiffany’s, suggests that Sam Stone’s first novella is a parody of Truman Capote’s 1958 classic, much like Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Ben H. Winters’ Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, it is far from it.
Set in Victorian America during the 1862 Civil War, narrator and lead protagonist Kat Lightfoot gets a job at Tiffany’s jewellery store to support her family while her brother Henry is away fighting for the Union. It is on the battlefield, through the letters of Henry, where we first learn of a cannibalistic outbreak. Suffice to say, it does not take long for the infection to spread to civilian society. It is just as well that Tiffany’s ingenious jewellery designer, Martin, also modifies nineteenth-century firearms that are loaded with diamond-laced ammunition. Did I not mention that earlier? Well, this is where Zombies at Tiffany’s gets fun. The narrative story slowly builds and erupts into a steampunk extravaganza, but it has deeper undertones to it, too.
Stone deals with mortality in war in an interesting way here, and this is apparent in Henry’s letters to Kat. When reflecting on returning from war, Henry comments: “Whatever had happened, it was all behind me. I was going home and away from the war. Away from death. Away from the darkness that consumed those whose souls were so empty that they needed to be filled by something else.” This suggests that the zombie outbreak in New York could be a comment on how the experiences of war follow soldiers back to civilian life. Kat also comments, during their final stand, that: “The falling bodies weakened the initial onslaught, and the zombies behind paused as though they feared death.” This is arguably another interesting reflection on life and death, and what better way to explore both than with the undead?
These are the strongest dimensions of Zombies at Tiffany’s, and the way in which Stone deals with death and trauma in an equally haunting and obscene way here is reminiscent of Tim O’Brien’s collection The Thing They Carried. A good example can be found in the chapter “Night Life”: “Briefly then, rambling a little, he talked about a few of the guys who were gone now, Curt Lemon and Kiowa and Ted Lavender, and how crazy it was that people who were so incredibly alive could get so incredibly dead. Then he almost laughed. ‘This whole war,’ he said. ‘You know what it is? Just one big banquet. Meat, man. You and me. Everybody. Meat for the bugs.’”
In essence, Zombies at Tiffany’s reminds me a lot of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volumes I and II) or the work of H. G. Wells, such as The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Invisible Man. There is something about the combination of a fantastical plot line, twisted technology and a Victorian-era backdrop that works amazingly well. Stone has put forward a valiant effort here, and for that should be applauded. Her novel is fun, quirky, dark, and, although not written with the same majesty as science-fiction heavyweights like Moore and Wells, this is a brilliantly authored piece of steampunk literature, and then some.
Zombies At Tiffany’s is available now