The Forest of Hands and Teeth has a compelling opening: zombies, sacrifice, and the introduction of the central preoccupation of the novel, choice. The opening sequence also gestures to the mysteries of the novel: the role of the Sisterhood and the possibility of a world beyond the forest.
The zombies are never mysterious. Their existence is explained as the result of a disease only affecting humans that spread many generations ago; their ‘final’ deaths are possible only by decapitation. The zombies, or the ‘Unconsecrated,’ function as a symbol for the barriers that keep individuals from pursuing ambitions or desires, as catalysts for characters to make decisions (to stay behind the fences? to kill a loved one if they are infected? to kill the self? to settle rather than risk infection?) and to a much lesser degree, as provocateurs, inviting the question of what it means to be human (memory? speech? empathy? selflessness?).
The end of the narrative leaves the reader with little question that Mary’s decision has been the right one, and that she considers her sacrifices – though difficult – worthwhile. I had hoped for a more complex conclusion, one that might leave Mary and the reader with more to consider. As it is, the narrative asks the question: is your life and the life of everyone you love worth sacrificing in order to prove the existence of ‘the beyond’ (here, an obviously Christian ‘beyond’ of baptism, confession and redemption) and, frustratingly, answers the question.