Thursday, May 30, 2013

Warm Bodies (Isaac Marion)

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this. I have to preface my review by saying first that there is no way I can't spoil this book, so don't read to the end if you don't want to get all spoiled.

This book is about zombies, and before I review Warm Bodies, I need to rant a little bit about this subject. I hate zombie things--zombie movies, zombie books, zombie TV shows--because there are basically two ways it's going to end: 1) you try not to become a zombie and then you do or 2) you die trying to avoid becoming a zombie. This is the eventuality of living in a zombie apocalypse, and it's frustrating to patiently sit through them if you know this is going to be the outcome. Of course, there is the occasional piece of zombie art that tries to create a new alternative, but usually these "escapes" are deus ex machina and don't make much sense.

So I was a bit hesitant to read Warm Bodies since I knew I didn't like zombies. But I was willing to give it a chance because it was a zombie romance (between a human and a zombie, no less)--it seemed different and for that reason I tried. It started off pretty great and then it tanked. The best part of the book is the beginning. R is a zombie living in a colony that has taken over an abandoned airport, but he is a zombie that is different: he wants more from life (everything about this sentence is a bad pun). He doesn't want to spend eternity stumbling around and moaning. He is capable of pretty advanced speech and deep thought. Spending the opening chapters with R was an absolute delight--his sentient existence allowed for a fresh, interesting perspective that managed to be philosophical without being annoying.

Unfortunately, it quickly goes downhill. R one day has a powerful, inexplicable craving for the flesh, so he gathers a band of zombies and raids a pack of humans. He kills one of the boys there, Perry, and begins to eat his brain, which causes him to experience tiny flashes of memory (which is a poignant, sad image that I really enjoyed). He falls in love with Perry's girlfriend, Julie, based on the memories he experiences--this is the first plot point I find a little improbable. Why hasn't this happened before? Why Julie? She doesn't even seem that remarkable a person. The descriptions I got in this section did not convince me that Julie is the one for R or for anyone. Anyway, he kidnaps her and takes her back to the zombie colony.

And then the book falls apart. Suddenly, R begins to change, inexplicably. He can speak more eloquently and he begins to remember things about his human life and all those moments of philosophy and wanting more start to get really annoying. He breaks Julie out of the zombie hive and then follows her to the human base, where he sneaks past guards who have been training for many years to recognize and kill zombies (in other words, implausible) and then a bunch of other zombies have started changing, too, and he and Julie kiss and suddenly he's a human again and the end.

What? The second half of the book is totally baffling. Things do not make sense--we do not understand why R is changing, we do not understand why it's affecting other zombies, and certainly there's no explanation for a magical kiss that can turn R--a zombie who has ceased to live for some years--back into a living person with blood and functioning organs. And then there's the bizarre part where they decide that being a zombie isn't caused by a virus but by the hatred in the hearts of all humans pre-zombie-apocalypse. WHAT IS HAPPENING, ISAAC MARION? WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? Somewhere in there I realized the story was a Romeo and Juliet retelling, and that just made me even more angry. The ending doesn't even match up, so what's the point?

As I said at the beginning, generally the only logical ways to go in a zombie story are death or conversion. This one tried to create an alternative, but it was irritating and violated everything I thought I understood about the universe I was in. No one likes that feeling. But the beginning was really good and there was such promise. So I don't totally hate it. R is a pretty cool guy. Julie is really bland. Her friend Nora is fun? I don't know. This was such a disappointment, and I really didn't have that many expectations because I hate zombie art.

My rating: 2/5
Warm Bodies on Goodreads
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