A review of “I Will Hold My Death Close,” by Stant Litore

The story of Jephta in Judges 11 is a problematic one.  Jephta the mighty warrior makes a vow before battle that he will sacrifice the first thing that crosses his path on his return home if victorious, probably thinking that this will be handy straying cattle.  He is victorious and alas, the first thing he sees on his return home is his daughter dancing out to meet him.  Not keeping his oath to God is unthinkable so she has to die, after a brief respite to wander the hills with her friends and bewail her virginity.  An over simplistic reading of the text seems to endorse the cruel and capricious God that some of the ‘new atheist’ movement like to cite (it gets a special mention in Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion”).  However, it misses the important fact that this action is not performed by God but by men.  And the text implies the vow is rash and foolish.  Also, some commentators argue that the Hebrew says that the young woman’s fate is not death but enforced chastity.

Considering the controversy is relevant when reading Stant Litore’s latest tale from the world of the Zombie Bible, which is loosely based on the tale, because he takes these tensions and runs with them.  The Zombie Bible uses the undead to magnify the malaise of spiritual famine or emptiness and the terrible conduct it can generate.  And Stant’s take on the tale is that the violent, predatory and devouring action of men towards women is as cruel and horrific as that of the flesh eating of the undead.  It’s a weakness that gets projected as a deity in its own right.  And so Jephta’s daughter, never in the original tale given the dignity of a name, finds herself ready to be sacrificed to it.  Stant contrasts this idea of God with one the daughter’s mother conjured up in songs and tales, a graceful sprit that runs like a deer beside the fleeing young woman.

The story begins with the daughter fleeing from the undead, forced to physically fight them occasionally in close hand to hand combat.  These scenes, early in the story and later, are visceral, immediate, and you can feel the claustrophobic terror of being smothered and overwhelmed, of losing the battle and failing to evade the snapping teeth, feeling the cold dead breath on your skin.  A scene where a ghoul is dispatched by hands sinking into its face “like hands kneading dough” is not one easily dismissed.  A later fight with an extremely desiccated corpse has the power to generate cold sweat.   The father appears to rescue her, but only so he can fulfil his terrible vow.  She is then bound by her father as he broods by firelight over the sacrificial knife.  As the daughter struggles to come to terms with her fate she confronts the father with the only weapon left to her, words.  The story then plays out with further attacks from the un-dead and further flight.  Will this young woman run to death at the hands of the zombies, at the hands of her father, by her own hands, or redemption?  I won’t stay, but the conclusion is satisfying, audacious, and no cop out.

This is a brilliantly crafted, passionate and intelligent piece of writing.

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