Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Genre: let's call it Adult Literary Dystopian Love Story?
I'm planning a trip down to Charlston over my birthday weekend to finally meet my lovely critique partner and to go to YALLFest. The list of authors attending this YA-focused shindig is fairly spectacular and nerd-girl spasm inducing, but there were a few I didn't recognize. I was intrigued enough by Isaac Marion's premise (and, judging by his author photo, his ability to blend lumberjack chic with artistic flair) to go out and pick it right up. Be warned: gushing is about to ensue, because I fell a little hard for this book. And not (just) because of the lumberjack chic.
Warm Bodies is told from the perspective of R, who is a zombie... I know, I know. More zombies? Really? More guts and deadness? I don't usually go in for these things, and yet I keep giving you guts and deadness. Whatever. Just keep reading. He's living in a rapidly deteriorating world where human civilization is dying out and R is struggling to shake off his undead apathy. Like the rest of the zombies who live in the airport, R can barely form sentences or move with anything approaching grace, but inside he's alive with beautiful thoughts about being free. And then he meets Julie, the beautiful live wire whose boyfriend's brains he's just eaten, absorbing his memories and last living thoughts. Julie and R have some strange kind of bond that makes him want to care about living. Julie's passion starts to bring him to life - quite literally - and they set out to make something of the world they thought was lost.
There are a couple of things that made me fall in love with this novel. First, there was R himself. I wasn't sure I could love a zombie narrator. I mean, he eats people... not something I normally condone, although writing about shape shifters has kind of liberated my literary moral compass. There are a couple of gross-out moments that make you want to close one eye. But Marion's narrative voice makes you care. I loved R's well-crafted inner voice, filled with a thoughtfulness and a yearning that makes him easy to connect to. By the end of the novel you're fist-pumping for this guy, wanting what he wants, wanting to see him get a second chance at living.
For me, this book is magical realism at its best. It doesn't try to make sense of the nonsensical elements; it simply hands them to you as truth without making a big fuss about it in a way that reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's stuff. You've got a stark, dystopian world - scenarios that we've seen before - peppered with surreal memories and connections that rope you in. In absorbing Julie's boyfriend's brain R becomes inextricably linked with Perry; using shared memories and dreams, they find a way to connect with Julie and bring both men to life. Sound trippy? It is. This is one of the most original stories I've ever read, infused with wit and a subtle exploration of the power and beauty of language.
And then there's the writing, which is truly lovely. The rise and fall of it is pitch-perfect, with each passage blending into the next, melting on the tongue. This is one of those books that makes me despair that I'll never be able to write so beautifully, but that does a good job in inspiring me to try.
I feel like R: I'm a little bit lost for words on this one. This zombie needs another cup of coffee.