In writing class, students are often asked to consider the question: “What if?” UBC Okanagan prof and local author, Adam Schroeder, has taken this question to a new level. While chatting with his wife one day, Schroeder found himself wondering: What if a substitute teacher became a zombie who gorges on bacon to keep his loosening body parts from falling off, all while running from the law?
The setup was so intriguing that Schroeder put aside a half-finished historical novel and began writing his latest book, All-Day Breakfast. In it, substitute teacher, Peter Giller, takes his class on a field trip to a plastics factory. After accidentally getting coated with liquid plastic, the class starts craving bacon, develops explosive tempers, and worse, their arms, fingers and ears begin to fall off.
Peter can’t quite believe that he has become a zombie. But it’s hard to avoid the evidence. Has his class become part of a botched military experiment? Was the plant pretending to manufacture garbage bags, but instead working to create superhuman plastic-injected soldiers? In a stolen ambulance, Peter and his students careen across the American mid-west looking for clues about what they’ve become, and in search of a cure. If there is one.
Underlying this zany, drippingly sarcastic and darkly humorous book — it’s a little unsettling to find yourself laughing as high school students staple back on each others’ ears and fingers — is a vein of genuine grief. Peter, a recently-widowed father, grieves for his wife, for the children he can’t see in his current state, and for what has befallen his zombie students. It may be a tad crazy, but it is touching.
All-Day Breakfast is a departure from Schroeder’s previous novels, both set in Southeast Asia (In the Fabled East was a finalist for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award). However, the writing is still Schroeder — imaginative, observant and zooming in on details that make us pause to laugh and to consider the human condition at the same time. “The other books were about places I’d been, but this book is me,” he says of All-Day Breakfast.
A writer’s life usually provides fodder for fiction. But strangely, while finishing All-Day Breakfast, Schroeder’s own life started mirroring events he had already written about in his book. In March 2014, long after the substantive writing of All-Day Breakfast was complete, Schroeder was diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome, a benign tumour at the base of his brain.
It’s a bit unnerving to read descriptions of brain surgery and brains wired up in aquariums, knowing this personal connection. Fortunately, in this case fiction is stranger than fact, and Schroeder has since undergone surgery and recovered from his illness.
Join him for the launch of All-Day Breakfast at Hooked on Books on March 17 at 7:30 p.m. Be warned: this isn’t going to be an ordinary book launch. In addition to reading, Schroeder will be rapping (with audience participation), and his mother-in-law is cooking up bacon-filled appetizers. I hope you don’t wind up craving them!
Heather Allen is a book reviewer living in Penticton.