Dead End Job by Clancy Nacht
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
This is a short zombie story that offers a clever twist on zombies then ruins it with an anemic romance. I wish the story had stuck with the original trajectory but I suppose just as many readers would have disliked that too. Instead there are a few twists that may appeal to those zombie fans but overall this is a sad and likely forgettable short story. There are a few moments of humor and wit that shine, showing the author has skill with comic timing and I’d be interested in reading something else by Nacht.
Dead End Job begins with a clever premise. The newly dead are farmed out to corporations for the mind numbing office work. As the story describes:
Only certain creative or managerial tasks required live intervention. Basic office administration was deemed too soul-crushing to give to the living. This also applied to factory work, the fast food industry, and government.
No doubt a sentiment many can identify with. Theo is middle management charged with signing the necessary paperwork that needs an actual brain to decipher. It’s boring work all on its own, surrounded by zombies day in and day out but Theo has job security at least. Until one day he spies an attractive zombie that suddenly leads Theo down a path he never expected.
The twist on zombies is fun but also tends to stay within familiar lines. The zombies are decaying, unintelligent, non-vocal creatures that do exactly as their told and nothing else. The fact that Theo develops a crush on one is what sparks the potential romance. If the story had stuck with this vein, I would have been much more interested. Perhaps I’m just a pervert as I’d love to wonder what happens – and the zombies are not romanticized like in other novels but instead smelling, decaying, rotting flesh. Not exactly sexy.
But there is a twist and that allows a romance to flourish which is sadly the weakest part. Theo and Don feel very cardboard and rote. I couldn’t really connect with either one and their grand passion doesn’t translate very well. Instead it feels like love between the last two humans on earth, which perhaps you’d love someone then out of desperation and loneliness. The story quickly wraps up their romance with a happy ending and hope for the future so the readers gets to see even less of their relationship but told everything works out.
While the romance doesn’t work very well and there are several distracting editing mistakes, for example Theo becomes Ted later on in the story, the author’s voice is engaging. I rather like the sense of wry humor and clever nods to zombies incorporated in office life. These are the best parts of the short story. So I’d recommend this for a sly wink at zombies in life but not the pseudo romance.