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The zombie known as “R” has only vague memories of his previous life. Most major details—his profession, his interests, even his own name—are lost to him. When he consumes a living brain, however, he gets flashes of that person’s life and imbibes their life force. Even so, R is more aware than many zombies in his enclave.
One day, he and his hunting party attack a group of human scavengers, and as R eats the brain of a young man, he gets stronger memories than he’s ever experienced. On top of that, he gains some of his affection for his girlfriend Julie… who is also in the group.
R saves Julie from the pack, takes her back to his home, and hides her from the others. But as he interacts with her, R begins to change even more. His thoughts and speech become clearer, and he begins to feel things that he thought were long gone. As for Julie, she’s realizing that the monster that she’s feared for so long may be more human than many of the living survivors she now lives with.
This is one of the more interesting zombie tales that I’ve read. For one thing, some of the zombies still possess a degree of intelligence and consciousness. All zombies have vestigial memories of their time as living people, and they will try to recreate aspects of that lost existence. Before too long, you can see that a lot of the behavior Marion portrays is meant as an allegory for our modern existence and its more mind-numbing properties. It’s a metaphor for the “daily grind” that we all hate so much, and as such, it’s a subtle call to break away from that lifestyle.
Unfortunately, the author tips his hand on the allegory about halfway through the novel, when R and Julie arrive at the concrete stadium that serves as the local human stronghold. When R first gets there, he appears to hear the voices of the living people that came before and that tried in bewilderment to rebuild the world. But this concept gets drawn out long past its usefulness, and soon it crosses the line into violating the “show, don’t tell” rule. I bought into it when R first arrives, and the “voices” are a counterpoint to what he witnesses of human civilization. But when the author uses it again, and uses it as commentary, I started to feel a little like I was being beaten over the head with it.
Marion has much more luck with the sections from the point of view of Perry, the boy whose brain R eats early in the novel. The memory flashes that R gets from Perry are intense and immersive, and given R’s impaired mental capacity, it makes sense that he could fall deeply into the borrowed visions. Since Perry lived through the rise of the zombies and the subsequent collapse of civilization, so viewing his life allows the author to slip in many details about the world and what happened to it.
As this is a love story, it’s not surprising that the author references the greatest love story of all: Romeo and Juliet. If you look at the names, you’ll quickly deduce that R is Romeo, Julie is Juliet, and R’s friend M is likely a stand-in for Mercutio. But the hand of romance sits lightly on this tale and doesn’t overpower the story with maudlin sentiments. But there is a balcony scene.
One of the things that I found intriguing about this book was the zombies known as the Boneys, creatures that have degenerated to mere skeletons. They not only represent the oldest of the zombies (and therefore the horror that was created), but they also represent stagnation and lack of adaptability. Their mantra is that the way things have always been is the way that things should be, and they act from this idea at all times. Their reaction to R’s changes and what they do to the rest of the group provides an interesting counterpoint to the younger zombies and their growing sentience.
I’m not sure how I feel about the way the novel ends. On the one hand, if we think of the zombies’ condition as a metaphor for all that’s wrong with our society today, it’s right that he should change and become something different. On the other hand, I’m not sure that he became different in a way that really accentuates that metaphor. It will be up to the individual reader to decide how they feel about the tale’s conclusion. For me, the jury is still out.
In the end, I found much to praise in this book and only a few things to quibble about. The author’s clever use of metaphor turns Warm Bodies into a parable about everything that’s wrong with our society today and, just possibly, a cautionary tale about what it might take to turn things around.
This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis Branch.