Fiend by Peter Stenson is an amazingly creative novel. In it, he manages not only to add energy to the popular zombie narrative with chilling details (like the eerie laughter they emit while hunting) but shows us a really engaging portrait of addiction. The entire work is an allegorical portrayal of the author’s inner life, but in my opinion it doesn’t feel heavy-handed. Instead, it feels like an honest portrayal of the verdict when an addict asked himself “What would happen if I was alone with my meth?”
Our main character Chase Daniels is holed up in his house smoking meth with his best friend Typewriter when, unknown to them, a virus sweeps the world, leaving some dead and the rest undead. They don’t emerge until they need another hit, and find that their city is deserted and only those with methamphetamines in their system have survived. Even before they know what’s made them immune, their only goal is to feed their addiction for just another moment. To do this, they have to survive.
Chase is definitely an anti-hero, and besides the decisions that he makes in self-preservation at the expense of others, he expresses a lot of misogyny. However, I don’t think that this is a reflection on unchallenged ideas that Stenson has on women; instead, I think that it serves as a cautionary tale about what it means to connect with other people through the distorted lens of an obsession.
Something that I liked in particular about the book was the blending of the internal and the external. The most obvious way that he does that is by foregoing quotation marks entirely, so that dialogue isn’t inherently distinguishable from Chase’s internal monologue. This prepares us for the moments of unreality throughout the novel, as in the first scene when Chase is wondering whether his first glimpse of the undead is a hallucination. The blending creates a dream-like haze reminiscent of a high, and also serves to remind us that the work is an exploration of something much more personal than zombies.
While it may focus on dark topic, and include details about drug use that some shouldn’t be reading, overall Fiend was a light read. The tone is conversational, the style simple, and I often found myself chuckling at the way the characters interacted and Chase’s honesty as a narrator. However, it must be admitted that I am not at all sensitive to themes of drugs, decay, despair, and death, and so for others it might have a lot more impact. I recommend it for anyone who thinks that they’re sick of zombie stories, or anyone looking for an interesting and intimate read.