Warm Bodies wants to say a lot of important things. It’s probably the most blatant metaphorical book I’ve read in a good long while, and I’m usually cool with that. It’s all about apathy and the Power of Love and stuff.
But it’s also not a very good book. To be clear, it’s very well written. R’s voice is incredibly cool and unique – a more poetic Zombie never un-lived. He’s obviously very in his head and he’s really funny and has great observations. My favorite quote, read out in the caressing, seductive narrator’s voice:
I want to change my punctuation. I long for exclamation marks, but I’m drowning in ellipses.
It’s full of great stuff like that.
The problem is that it feels like a “Literary” Fiction book that’s trying to be “Science” Fiction. It has all these great big Character Announcements to make, but they happen at the sacrifice of the plot or, you know, basic common sense.
For example, R, (a Zombie, but a surprisingly self-aware Zombie) meets Julie on a hunting party, when he and his friends personally eat her boyfriend and their friends. R reaches in through Perry’s neck, cracks open his skull like an egg, and eats his brain. It literally says he cracks the skull open like an egg.
As he’s eating the brain he has flashes of Perry’s memories and sees how much he loved Julie and so R falls in love with Julie and takes her back to his nest at the airport. There they bond and gain trust and eat Pad Thai. And Julie forgives him for cracking open Perry’s skull like an egg and eating his brain because R is a Zombie – it’s the Disease! – and because Perry has been despairing since the death of his father last year and, in fact, intended to let himself die on that mission.
I’m all over that whole seeing-good-in-people, everyone-deserves-a-second-chance, we’ve-all-got-something-to-atone-fer story line. But, what?!
And the thing is, I could have believed it. Hell, I’m the biggest romantic ever; I still cry at that Folger’s coffee commerical – (PETER!). But I don’t understand enough about what supposedly happened.
R and Julie falling in love starts bringing the other Zombies back to life – to consciousness. They all just have to hang out enough and people remember what it’s like to love, ex cetera, but we don’t know how or why it works.
Is it that R is special? That Julie is? That Perry was special and eating his brain caused R to in some senses become Perry and that’s how he remembers how to love – because Perry loved Julie so much, even though he was despairing? And Julie was prepared to give up on Perry, who was a sweetie until her Evil Father got his hooks in him, but she’s willing to take a chance on this new guy who cracked open Perry’s skull like an egg and ate his brain (not the whole brain, he saved some for later.) And how is it transmitting to the other Zombies? And if Love Is All You Need, why didn’t it work during the outbreak – surely people loved at least some of the early people who became Zombies – why didn’t their love bring those people back so we could avoid this altogether?
Someone, I think Joss Whedon, says that you have to establish the rules of the universe so that it means something when you break them. There were no rules established in this universe, so saving the world with love didn’t mean that much.
There are also a fair amount of heavy-handed “Romeo and Juliet” references. You’ve either got to go for subtlety or humor if you’re going to compare your work to “Romeo and Juliet”, and no one is ever going to write the balcony scene better, so let’s just move along.
I should have known it wouldn’t be the book for me as it’s also two kinds of story I hate.
1. Manic Pixie Dream Girl Teaches Man to Live and Smell Flowers and Dance in the Rain.
Often the girl is damaged through past abuse and is dying or dies at the end, having been nothing but a tool to help a white man enjoy his life more, while also allowing him to “save” her (not necessarily from death, but from herself or her abusers) proving that he’s a good white man after all. Julie’s not manic and doesn’t die, but she is a dream girl who listens to The Beatles all the time and has a bad past with an alcoholic father and sexual experiences she doesn’t feel good about. And her teaching R to feel again basically saves the planet.
2. Gosh Darn It, I Know He Kidnapped Me and Killed People, But He’s Just So Sensitive. And Hot.
Also known as Stockholm Syndrome, this only works in In Time. Because Justin Timberlake really is that hot.
To draw the longest blog post ever to a close, I will say that there are really good things about this book – The Boneys are a cool idea, and a scary one. I love Julie’s Polaroid Farewell. The whole section at the airport gives a really good sense of place. R’s gradual recovery is very subtle and good to watch.
But overall, I’d give it a miss.