Monday, July 11, 2011

What We're Reading: Warm Bodies

Zombies. They have been quite the literary trend the past few years, with everything from World War Z by Max Brooks, Z by Michael Thomas Ford, Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by [Jane Austen and] Seth Grahame-Smith, and its prequel spin-off, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, by Steve Hockensmith. The thing that makes Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion, stand out in this rather morbid--and sometimes gory--field of interest is that this is a book about zombies written from the perspective of a zombie! And to top it off, it’s a romance!

R, the protagonist of Warm Bodies, doesn’t know how long he has been a zombie, doesn't remember when/how he died, or even what his name used to be. He simply goes by R. Even though he is one of the undead, R has an active internal life (which is of great benefit to the reader!). He lives in an abandoned airport terminal within a hive of zombies who make occasional trips into the city in search of food. On one of these excursions, R eats the brains of Perry, a young man very much in love with his girlfriend Julie. While it is typical for a zombie to experience some of the emotions and experiences of the person whose brains they are eating, the intensity of the experience of eating Perry’s brain for R is an afterlife-altering experience. R decides that Julie must not be eaten, but instead, following an uncharacteristic impulse, he is determined to protect her. And so begins Marion’s story of how R and Julie, after an introduction that is anything but a “meet-cute,” fall in love.

Warm Bodies is part horror, part dystopian future and part teenage romance. While these may seem unlikely story elements to combine, Marion does so with intriguing results, including a strong indictment against our current culture. The zombies described in Warm Bodies are not the typical mindless walking dead portrayed in most fiction and/or movies. Some of them, as indicated by R, seem to have potentialities rarely portrayed. This is both the novel’s greatest strength and its weakness. Marion’s zombies seem to vary in intellect, skills, interests and talents. They have formed what is almost an alternative culture, albeit one that is predicated upon the killing of the living. Marion’s description of this alternate culture is the most compelling part of the book as is revealed by Julie’s introduction to, and protection from, this world by R. Sadly, this “tweaking” of the traditional zombie is also one of the book’s weakest points, since the zombies do stray so far from established conventions it is sometimes difficult to reconcile the story as presented with more traditional zombie lore. Also, the final resolution of the book was, for this reader, less than satisfying. That said, Warm Bodies is an interesting twist on the new zombie genre!

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