Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Title: Warm Bodies
Author: Isaac Marion
Genre: Horror, Zombies, Romance

Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: April 2011
Hardcover: 256 Pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone

Summary:
R is a young man with an existential crisis–he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams.

After experiencing a teenage boy’s memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim’s human girlfriend. Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world.

Scary, funny, and surprisingly poignant, Warm Bodies is about being alive, being dead, and the blurry line in between.
Review:

As the summary explains, R has the unfortunate privilege of being a zombie in a world gone awry. America is no longer the country it is today, but rather a cold and dangerous ruin. While there are a few pockets of humanity holding out the best they can against a sea of undead, most of the world is destroyed and abandoned.

Basically the world looks like this:

Photobucket

Told in first person, the thing that drew me to this book was the fact we get to see inside Z's head. Very few zombie books give the reader an insight into zombies (probably because most zombies don't have insight), but Marion is able to make Z into a real protagonist. While Z may not be able to remember his name or how he ended up as a zombie, he is still able to think eloquently and question his fate (even if he can barely express those thoughts). After attacking a group of humans and eating a boy named Perry's brain, Z is able to vividly recall parts of Perry's life in a way he's never experienced before. This leads to Z's irrational attachment to Perry's girlfriend, Julie, and Z's insistence to keep her safe. This puts both characters on a journey that will lead to interesting questions and maybe even a solution to the zombie problem.

Z's transition from escalator-riding-man-eater into a person capable of feeling is fun to watch and by far the strength of this book. Unfortunately it's also one of the biggest weaknesses for me. Z's thoughts are a little too eloquent to buy into and makes his transition feel hallow. I also thought Marion's writing was a bit self-indulgent in the beginning. While the first third of the book was by far the strongest, it was also wordy in a way that made the premise hard to accept.

There were also inconsistencies with Julie's character that I couldn't let go of. While Perry's memories of Julie show her to be quick tempered and a bit idealistic, some of Julie's reactions don't match up with that. Julie and Z's relationship basically starts on a foundation of deception and the big climactic moment (you know when everything is laid out on the table and the slates are wiped clean) is pretty unremarkable. Julie's quiet acceptance of Z's biggest failures ultimately made her character feel two dimensional. Perry is a monster but he's absolved of all guilt or responsibility. Instead of reacting like a real person with fleshed out emotions, Julie seemed to do things in a way that would basically forward the story and make the ending possible.

For example, Julie actually says:
"Anyway," she says, "whoever killed Perry... I just want you to know I don't blame them for it."

I tense again. "You... don't?"

"No. I mean, I think I get it. You don't have a choice, right? And to be honest... I'd never say this to anyone, but..." She stirs her food. "It's kind of a relief that it finally happened."

I frown. "What?"

"To be able to finally stop dreading it."
Having thoughts like this on a subconscious level is not the same as actually being okay with the only boy you've ever loved being eaten by zombies. I seriously can't believe people would buy into this explanation. It's too overly rational and not emotional enough. Death is emotional. Duh. Z didn't have to work for his redemption. Julie seemed eager to give it him.

Another part of the story I had a problem accepting was Marion's treatment of Perry. Again, this character really only seemed necessary for the reader to actually like Julie, since she wasn't very likable in what we saw of her, and for Z's and Julie's relationship to move forward. Perry is constantly picked apart throughout the book for the sole purpose of making Z seem like a better match for Julie. In a way Perry is also used as a tool for Z to manipulate Julie into thinking he has some great connection with her. I found myself rooting for Perry throughout the story which makes absolutely no sense and really made me feel like easy plotting came before genuine character arcs. Julie is not the catalyst for Z's change in my view. Perry was. And by constantly demeaning his character because he might have had a hard time adjusting to life when all his loved ones were slowly taken away from him, Marion actually demeaned Z's transformation as well.

Now, I know I probably made it sound like I hated this book but that isn't the case at all. While the beginning was a bit wordy, Marion's writing was a joy to read. The biggest fault in this book is really my inability to just buy into the story. Maybe if the zombies weren't decomposing I could accept Z as a romantic interest, but I had a hard time seeing why Julie would care for Z as more than a friend without Perry's transferred emotions conflating things for the reader. I also thought the ending was a bit heavy handed with the "we did this to ourselves" message.

Notable Quotes/ Parts: (from Chapter 1)
I AM DEAD, but it's not so bad. I've learned to live with it. I'm sorry I can't properly introduce myself, but I don't have a name anymore. Hardly any of us do. We lose them like car keys, forget them like anniversaries. Mine might have started with an "R," but that's all I have now. It's funny because back when I was alive, I was always forgetting other people's names. My friend "M" says the irony of being a zombie is that everything is funny, but you can't smile, because your lips have rotted off.

None of us are particularly attractive, but death has been kinder to me than some. I'm still in the early stages of decay. Just the gray skin, the unpleasant smell, the dark circles under my eyes. I could almost pass for a Living man in need of a vacation. Before I became a zombie I must have been a businessman, a banker or broker or some young temp learning the ropes, because I'm wearing fairly nice clothes. Black slacks, gray shirt, red tie. M makes fun of me sometimes. He points at my tie and tries to laugh, a choked, gurgling rumble deep in his gut. His clothes are holey jeans and a plain white T-shirt. The shirt is looking pretty macabre by now. He should have picked a darker color.

We like to joke and speculate about our clothes, since these final fashion choices are the only indication of who we were before we became no one. Some are less obvious than mine: shorts and a sweater, skirt and a blouse. So we make random guesses.

You were a waitress. You were a student. Ring any bells?

It never does.

No one I know has any specific memories. Just a vague, vestigial knowledge of a world long gone. Faint impressions of past lives that linger like phantom limbs. We recognize civilization—buildings, cars, a general overview—but we have no personal role in it. No history. We are just here. We do what we do, time passes, and no one asks questions. But like I've said, it's not so bad. We may appear mindless, but we aren't. The rusty cogs of cogency still spin, just geared down and down till the outer motion is barely visible. We grunt and groan, we shrug and nod, and sometimes a few words slip out. It's not that different from before.

But it does make me sad that we've forgotten our names. Out of everything, this seems to me the most tragic. I miss my own and I mourn for everyone else's, because I'd like to love them, but I don't know who they are.
You can read more here.

Verdict:

As you can see by the excerpt the writing is lovely. Besides a few scenes (two I believe), this would be a perfect book for non-zombie lovers to test the waters. It has common themes about love and overcoming the odds that some people like. Though I would recommend Generation Dead over this book, I can see the appeal.

If you love zombies though, I don't know if this is the book for you. Light on horror and even a bit corny at times, this book just didn't work for me. I'd take a torn out throat over a cheesy romance any day though, so maybe you should just ignore me.

Rating: 5. Blah – essentially neutral

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