Saturday, July 16, 2011

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

R is a zombie. Like most of his, um, people he doesn't remember more than vague snatches of his time as one of the Living. He thinks his name began with "R." He thinks he may have been a businessman, perhaps a middle executive, because of the nature of the tattered clothing on his rotting frame. He's pretty sure that he hasn't been dead for long, because his state of putrefaction is less extreme than that of many of his fellows. Like all of the Dead, R is unable to speak in more than two or three word grunts. Unlike most of them, however--at least, as far as he can tell--R has a rich, eloquent interior life. He also likes to listen to Frank Sinatra records and ride the escalator at the airport where the Dead make their home.


The Dead huddle together in the abandoned airport, cobbling together a society to suit their needs. They can't build things, can't even summon the manual dexterity to hold tools. Despite the obvious intellect that both R and his friend M demonstrate, by and large the Dead are not a deep thinking bunch. And their dietary needs are very, very particular. Much like the giant panda, whose diet consists overwhelmingly of bamboo and so must live near large stands of their staple foodstuff, so, too, must the Dead live in proximity to the nimbler, quicker thinking and moving Living. The Living, too, gather together with their own kind, in an abandoned stadium where they construct tall, rickety structures to house as many survivors as possible in a relatively small, but highly defensible, space. The stadium is rarely breached by the Dead, but the Living have to venture out regularly to forage for supplies.

One day when the Dead are out on a raid to cull some food from among the Living R kills a young man, Perry, and as he consumes Perry's flesh R is flooded with all of his memories--all of his desires, his fears, his joys, and his anxieties. His eye falls upon a woman whom he knows instantly as Julie, and whom he just as instantly loves. And then R does something even more unimaginable than falling in love with his sworn enemy. He smears his own fluids on Julie to mask her living scent and takes her back to his home.

Julie is smart and sassy, and though she's at first horrified, soon enough she begins to see R's underlying humanity. This humanity becomes easier to discern as it begins to manifest itself in more obvious ways, such as slowly increasing facility with the spoken word, which gives him a means to express his intelligence and sly sense of humor. 

Warm Bodies is a strange and wonderful love story. It is, of course, disgusting (as any good zombie novel should be), full of decaying bodies shambling around and losing limbs at inopportune moments and people (for the Dead know themselves to be people just as much as the Living do) pulling choice bits of brain out their pockets to munch on much as we would a power bar. It's beautifully written, and the dichotomy between the self that R knows he presents to the world and the inner self that we see through his narrative is heartbreaking. But ultimately Warm Bodies is about the power of love to exact change on a scale far bigger than that of the merely individual. And that's what makes it so powerful.

1 comment:

Mary said...

I keep hearing good things about this one, usually prefaced by, "I don't usually read/like zombie novels." Nice review!
Mary A Book A Day