Story of a rancid romance

Susan Altman, Staff Writer

In his first published work, “Warm Bodies,” up-and-coming novelist Isaac Marion expands upon the world of literary romance in a rather shocking fashion: by throwing zombies into the mix.

However, the zombies of this work differ greatly from the stereotypical massive hordes featured in critically acclaimed works such as the “The Walking Dead” and “World War Z.”  Instead, the majority of Marion’s zombies—though lacking all knowledge of their former life, and often behaving in animalistic manners—still possess some semblance of their humanity, even going as far as to commit to ritualistic marriages and child-rearing practices. But the main famous zombie activity, the consumption of brains, still remains intact, and plays a rather creative role:  in addition to it being vital to their survival, the zombies also momentarily experience all of the memories of their prey.

While most zombies only view these barbaric re-livings as pleasantries or necessities, the protagonist, R, manages to possess higher aspirations. Though he is physically incapable of expressing his idealism—after all, he is in a decaying state, and can only utter a few syllables at once—the story is told from his rather eloquent point of view.

From the very start, he desires emotional connections and meaning, which none of his fellow zombies particularly covet, as they mostly “live” for the hunt of the few remaining mortals. He is one of the few who remembers his name at all, albeit a single letter, and, in “A Little Mermaid”-esque fashion, carries human items (A Barbie and a Frank Sinatra album, for example) back to his lair after he seeks for his morbid food source.

The main plot is driven by the aftermath of one such hunt, with this already somewhat self-aware zombie ultimately devouring the brain of a teenager by the name of Perry Kelvin. R experiences the boy’s relatively short but vibrant life, and also his adoration for his girlfriend, Julie Grigio, who happened to accompany Perry to what came to be his final resting place.  Inspired, he vows to protect her from his own ruthless kind, and sneaks her back to his home, thus setting off a huge chain of events in their rotting world.

Due to its similarity in genre, this book may draw unfair comparisons to another supernatural romance fixation: vampires. But it is distinct in multiple ways, as vampires have been viewed as intimately alluring for centuries. (Kristen Stuart, Christopher Lee, and Brad Pitt have not hurt the charismatic perception of vampires over the decades either.)

After all, the sucking of blood is much more sensual than ripping apart flesh and bone and chowing down on the brain. But “Warm Bodies” also chooses to focus on broad terms and not just Julie and R’s complicated—and don’t worry, non-physical—relationship. Rather, it seeks to be more about the human condition.

Not to say this book is not entirely without faults. The idea of semi-sentient zombies seems rather awkwardly implemented at times, as it rather demeans the usual horror of gratuitous slaughter, thus automatically making them more sympathetic and susceptible to redemption.  The author also has a tendency to describe dramatic physical events far too quickly, which is in great contrast to R’s usual internal monologues.

But overall, “Warm Bodies” comes highly recommended, and at fewer than 250 pages, it would make a worthy quick read during your busy semester. The book is available at bookstores and libraries nationwide, as well as in e-book formats.