Plot Summary: Killed in a car accident as a young teen, Jessie woke up in her coffin under six feet of earth and clawed her way out to live as a zombie. She met up with a gang of semi-reclusive zombies who haunt the woods of Calumet County, Indiana, and she's been with them ever since. Jessie eschews eating humans - who live in barricaded townships against the zombie menace - and she lives off deer, possum, duck, and any other animal she can hunt. Despite her supernatural strength, Jessie's body will slowly decompose, bloat, become infested with bugs, and then dry up. Despite this grim future, Jessie's survival instinct is strong, and she has a lot of affection for some of the zombies in her gang. When strange-smelling creatures, halfway between dead and alive, begin to infiltrate the forest, Jessie suspects that some of her fellow zombies have caught a new disease, and she tries to piece it all together. What she can't imagine is that she's intimately involved with this new threat to zombies and humans alike, and it will change society forever.
After I read the first chapter I realized that I wouldn't be eating any food while reading Dust. My roast beef sandwich just wasn't palatable after reading about these maggot-ridden zombies who shamble around spitting out black "coffin liquor" while losing body parts in the woods. I give author Joan Frances Turner an A for her vivid, stomach-churning descriptions, because when I'm reading a book about zombies, I want to be grossed out. It's par for the course.
Dust has an interesting premise. The zombies in Ms. Turner's vision retain enough of their humanity to socialize, communicate, and enjoy their undead life, but their hunger instincts eliminate any compassion they might feel for the humans and animals they eat. Zombies can live for centuries, and they communicate via a sort of telepathy, since lips, throats and tongues start to decay soon after death. I can't say I've encountered this kind of zombie before, and I was able to suspend my disbelief for the most part and revel in their disgusting nature. They didn't win my heart, which is kind of a shame since they are "humanized" zombies, but I was rooting for them by the end. The humans themselves didn't elicit any of my sympathy, strangely enough.
The plot unfolds with a series of small, seemingly unconnected events, and by the end there's a full-on plague that practically wipes out life on Earth. I thought it was over several times, but there were more and more pages to read, so I was impressed at how it kept twisting and turning toward its conclusion. Unfortunately the pacing is a little hampered by dreams, flashbacks, and existential passages that made for slow reading at times, but it did build up into something that was exciting to read.