Sherry (aged 12) and her father are going to do some shopping at the supermarket. Their expedition is not quite as everyday as it sounds as for three years Sherry, her parents, her brother, sister and grandmother have been living in a hermetically sealed cell. Grandad, by the way, is dead and lies in the freezer. In the outside world an infectious rabies bug has been killing or transforming people. In the cell the family can live a safe if somewhat enclosed life.
But now they have two problems. Sherry’s mother is asthmatic and has no treatment. And they are running out of food. Sherry and her father are the best shots in the family and therefore best able to defend themselves against sinister predators. They are deputed to make the expedition. Sherry sees her father captured by a mutant monster, a ‘Weeper’. She herself is in mortal danger when she is rescued by a boy named Joshua, with whom she sets out to save what she can of her family life.
This is not a book for pre-teen children. It is a fantasy just waiting to be made into a zombie film. The monsters of this tale – the Weepers – are depicted with great skill, inspiring genuine terror in the reader. Weepers are all the more frightening because their sentiments closely resemble ours. Winnacker raises a whole range of issues central to contemporary societies, some would argue with extra relevance to her own USA. How do societies dependent on violence survive? How do citizens employ violence to exist? Who decides who shall live or die?
Relate Winnacker’s book to our society. In the UK the prison population is the highest it has ever been in modern times. Young people have recently shown that they are ready in their thousands to take to the streets and commit violent acts. Is The Other Life the kind of allegorical warning we desperately need?