Title: Warm Bodies
Author: Isaac Marion
Publishing Company: Atria Books
Publication Date: December 25, 2012 (originally April 26, 2011).
Paperback: 241 pages
Is There a Pooka in This Book?: No, but aside from zombies, there are brief shout-outs to both Sasquatch and the Chupacabra.
“Warm Bodies” is about a zombie who desperately wishes he weren’t Undead. He doesn’t really fit in. He has an active intellect, never progresses beyond the beginning stages of decomposition, and is capable of uttering up to four syllables at a time — a personal & group record, and one which he beats time and time again. He has cravings that extend beyond the hunger for human flesh. Most deeply, he yearns for a name.
While the zombies in “Warm Bodies” are capable of remembering tidbits from society (the basic structure of civilization and its pieces – buildings, cars, and the ilk), they’re incapable of remembering personal details from their previous lives. That’s why they eat human brains. They don’t just need the protein; they get high off of memories.
When “R” (he thinks his name might’ve started with that letter) goes on a routine raid and eats the brain of a young soldier, he falls rotting-head-over-rotting-heels-in-love with the man’s girlfriend. He does the unthinkable and brings Julie home with him to Zombie headquarters. They find a way to communicate, through short phrases, gestures, and music (mostly Frank Sinatra songs played on vinyl), while he protects her from the hungry horde. Julie talks and he listens, and she stirs up feelings that he thought were dead along with his flesh.
It sounds cheesy and implausible, and I guess it is, but it’s also self-aware, and the wit is biting and acerbic.
My favorite part about the narration is Marion’s unwavering commitment to the deconstruction of binary oppositions. The world’s as gray as the zombies’ pallor – which isn’t to say that things are (or aren’t) bleak, but that nothing’s easily identifiable or classifiable. Everything’s all mushed in together, side by side: death & life, tragedy & humor, ugliness & beauty, black drool & angels. Sentences about bodies hitting the ground with “moist thuds” brush right up against those that describe “the effervescence of life energy, like the ionized tang of lightning and lavender” (5, 6). And somehow, what all of that uncertainty creates isn’t nihilism; it’s an Idealist’s Anthem, a call to bear arms, if “arms” were hope and passion. It’s a Manifesto for everyday life as much as it is for the zombie apocalypse. You can’t allow yourself to spend your days, “corralled in the stadium [or office] with nothing to think about but surviving until the end of the day” (70). You have to live.
Another surprising and altogether likable thing is that “Warm Bodies” is a fairy tale, styled along the lines of “Pretty Woman,” in which the boy saves the girl, “and she rescues him right back.” But nobody’s a prostitute (except for that time when Julie was 13 and acting out). And instead of the Prince being a frog or a wealthy businessman, he’s a zombie. And the soundtrack includes more of John Lennon’s “Imagine” than it does Prince’s “Kiss”… although the lyrics “I just need your body baby, from dusk till dawn” are still hilariously apt. And there’s a shower scene “R” could perform it in, which would mimic the pants off of Julia Roberts’ bathtub scene. Please tell me that happens in the movie. Then I could (un)die happy.
Pooka Rating: 4 out of 5 Nibbles
*Note: As the time is now 1am, my plan is to read until my eyes beg me to stop, but I won’t be posting any more reviews tonight. Then I’ll wake up tomorrow and do it all over again! Day 2, I’m comin’ for you! For those of you still chugging, here’s a passage that should
inspire you scare you into STAYING AWAKE!:
“Every time I go to sleep, I know I may never wake up. How could anyone expect to? You drop your mind into a bottomless well, crossing your fingers and hoping that when you pull it out on its flimsy fishing wire it hasn’t been gnawed to bones by nameless beasts below. Hoping you pull up anything at all” (102).
*Double note: There was a part of the novel that reminded me of Jeanette Winterson’s “Written On the Body,” a reminder that struck me as being so funny given the subject matter. Winterson’s book is one of the most beautiful & literary works I’ve ever read, and here I was reading a teen zombie book and comparing the two. Recalling one of the soldier’s memories, Marion writes, “I crush her against me. I want to be part of her. Not just inside her but all around her. I want our rib cages to crack open and our hearts to migrate and merge. I want our cells to braid together like living thread” (18). And then the very next page reminded me of Nabokov’s “Lolita”! “Ju…lie,” I say. It rolls off my tongue like honey. I feel good just saying it” (19). Does that not remind you of ““Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”?! They’re both about transgressive love. Or, I could just be sleep-deprived…