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Pontypool Changes Everything

by Tony Burgess

Les Reardon spent 25 years of his life as a garbage man; then he had a psychotic breakdown, went back to school and became a drama teacher in Pontypool. Unfortunately, the nightmarish images that caused his breakdown now seem to be invading everyone’s reality.

The outbreak of a strange plague, AMPS (Acquired Metastructural Pediculosis), is causing people across Ontario to slip into aphasia and then into a cannibalistic zombie rage! AMPS is transferred through language and the only way to stop its spread is to outlaw communication. This metaphysical, deconstructionist virus requires a multi-disciplinary approach and doctors, semioticians, linguists, anthropologists, and even art critics present theories as to its source and treatment.

Reading Pontypool Changes Everything is like watching a 1950s horror flick on the late, late show: The images are sometimes only tenuously connected.

In Part II, Les Reardon fades from view and we are introduced to a new set of characters, Greg, Julie, and Jimmy. Unlike those old horror movies, here, there are no innocents. The children, Julie and Jimmy, learn to capture and cannibalize zombies.

There is a degree of social and political commentary in Pontypool. Big Town TV, located on Toronto’s Queen Street, seems oddly familiar, as does the government’s handling of the epidemic.

Like Burgess’s last book, The Hellmouths of Bewdley, the writing in Pontypool is taut with inventive and poetic metaphors. Overtones of The Night of the Living Dead abound and the novel is filmic in approach, style, imagery, and construction.

By the end of the book, the demon baby offspring of cannibalistic siblings join Les Reardon’s drug addicted infant son in the depths of Lake Scugog, where they no doubt are plotting how to bring about disaster in the third book of the trilogy, Caeseria.