First of all, I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This is not to say it was necessarily a well written book, because it very much was not. Despite being an aspiring writer, I do not require perfection in my literature. I really love a little adventure fantasy with an interesting concept. I can do a good popcorn read here and there. However, I don’t have to turn my brain completely off or try to justify the media’s goodness to do so. Not a good book, just a fun one.
It plays with what it means to be a live, the definition of living and it’s a gorramn Zombie romcom adventure! What’s not to love? Little bit dark but not unbearably so, especially as zombie apocalypses go.
(Note: The comedy aspect of the book is understated. Don’t go in looking for a bucket of laughs, it will disappoint you if that’s what you want. I just think of it as a technical romcom.)
The author I will posit, has not done a whole lot of thinking on sexism beyond what is expected of our generation (Hint: If that’s all you’ve done you’re not doing it right, we’re not quiiiite passed the hateful binary as a culture, and it bleeds through. We all have to heal from that.) He also has instances of fat shaming and has a few instances of smashing the concepts of the world into his audiences skulls with a bold lettered two-by-four.
TRIGGER WARNING: If you cannot handle any mention of molestation / want to avoid any mention of sexual mistreatment in your light fiction, stay away from Warm Bodies. It is not a huge theme but it is a part of one of the characters back story. It is simply mentioned in dialogue but it feels noteworthy. I can handle buckets and buckets of gore, but that can get to me if it’s gone into AT ALL.
Continue on if you have read it or don’t care about plot spoilers
There is a quiet, but inherent sexism to the work hidden in little lines. I think it does avoid some of the inherent sexism to the monster-protector, because as it is a zombie apocalypse, the “Danger” she is running into is everywhere. She is not simply a waif that he has to inexplicably protect from him or herself, nor is the danger she needs protecting from not contextually appropriate. Any romance/family in a zombie apocalypse that lacked the element of protection simply doesn’t contextually make sense. Also, never in the novel is he a danger to her, so it manages to escape some of the implications of spousal abuse that often come with the monster inside the man. He is always kind to her, from day one. He saves her from his kind and cares for her, and when it is time for her to go, he helps her leave. Simple as that.
There’s a single line acknowledging that Julie is competent enough to fight, but this never comes into play. He still rescues her when she is cornered by zombies. He still does any of the fighting that comes in the later parts of the book. Though to be fair, they do greatly outnumber her AND she is more delicate. because she is alive. Though this shows up in other aspects as well. Despite her being a better driver than R, he always drives, even in life or death situations. Even when he is still learning how to drive! Of course, this was to highlight he’s becoming more human, he’s able to be alert enough to drive. But why on earth would Julie assume that when her life’s on the line? If a character is given active traits but still acts totally passive, then they are not an active character. She still comes off as the typical, delicate female victim. It is not inherently problematic to have characters who are not super competent, super strong etc. However, seeing the same roles over and over and over and over–especially done so thoughtlessly–it gets both cliche and no small parts sexist. The book credits them both with starting something, their love bringing humanity back to the dehumanized, human and zombie alike, but her only part in any of it is being the one who likes him back. Sharing herself. Which is no small feat, but I crave women in action/horror/fantasy/ALL FRACKING stories who go beyond this. When 1/10 characters is female, and those other 9 characters can fight, hold their own, by themselves? It’s not right.
This on it’s own may not be enough to conclude a sexist tone, but there are little lines and oddities. Sex itself is portrayed strangely in the novel. It’s clear that perfectly nice relationships in the human society are not celibate. Even implied that sexuality is part of being alive. However both of the females of the story are supposed to be likeable have very negative promiscuity as a part of their past. As part of their confusion, drug use and depression.This is contrasted with the highly virginal super-importance of the first kiss. (This may be forgivable though, considering how the cross the boundaries life and death nature of said kiss is). It does give the sort of initial impression of a sex-negative view. Which may or may not have been intended.
Also noteworthy during this novel’s version of the wet clothes scene (because only women ever have to change, of course) the main character, R the Zombie, contemplates that she seems tense to have him there, despite inviting him to stay the night platonic-ally with her. Speculating as to her tension, he thinks something to the effect of perhaps she is worried he would do “what any other man would do” in that situation. This very blatantly implies that most men are a little bit to a lot rapey. Perhaps this can be justified for the overall theme of humanity’s downfall, but as a reader, I keep feeling like this author is just not very socially aware. At least when it comes to sex and gender. I am grateful that at the very least the lead is not the virgin in contrast with her slutty friend (the usual stereotype), rather basically all the creatures of the world are acknowledged to be sexual creatures. Yet I am still left with the overall impression that sex is bad, which is not very culturally progressive. I am sure the message was much more supposed to be society is bad, people can be good even with bad parts, if they just try. However it just makes the female lead Julie seem like a victim to be rescued. (Though to be fair, she had a presumably perfectly pleasant romantic and sexual relationship with her first boyfriend.)
Then of course, there’s a little bit of blatant fat shaming thrown in, just for flavor. Pointlessly. Yes, for those of you who have read it, I am claiming that a zombie refusing to eat fat people is in fact anti-fat. The scene where it happens has Julie making fun of fat people’s clothing, and R claiming that fat is gross and muscle is better because the fat is “too dead”. For, of course, stored food in our body that keeps us alive is So dead. That makes all the sense (sarcasm font, sarcasm font). The scene is supposed to be cute but it’s just so shaming. Also, unnecessary. (However the line about him being a food snob did make me laugh.)
While we’re on the subject on appearance-policing, there’s also R constantly commenting on how much uglier Julie gets as the days go on. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I will agree that when I wake up in the morning sometimes my hair basically looks like a ratsnest. My partner has bad morning breath, and no human looks perfect from every angle. So having Love where there’s a feeling that, no, not everyone is perfectly beautiful is all well and good with me. This seems flippantly done, though. Perhaps it is unique to me to supplement “X human is not attractive from the profile” with “But they have beautiful eyes”. However it seemed unbalancedly represented, I had to add in my own context to see his comments of Julie’s degrading physical state while they were on the run as in any way non-judgemental. I feel the ideal with romance is “they don’t have to be perfect to be a beautiful human being”, not “she’s pretty but not all the time”. I suppose this is only a tonal discrepancy, but it felt noteworthy.
In a book where the whole point of the zombies is to serve as a metaphor for the downfall of civilization and then coming back as something different than human, and better. It simply feels sloppy to have appearance, sexuality and gender explored ineffectively.
The book also has problems from a purely writing-quality standpoint as well as the values. The whole Perry talking directly to R just feels completely heavey handed. I could have forgiven it if it were a dream, or if it had happened only once, however in several of the flashbacks Perry just talks to R. In fact, the whole change of R becoming more alive is originally posited by Perry despite all of the foreshadowing to that effect already in place. Sure, not everyone is a super critical reader, but it is simply unnecessary to just spell out the biggest theme of the book so blatantly for literature for kids older then 8. Seriously dude, give your audience some frackin’ credit.
I do love the tone of the deadness though. The first chapter and the lack of care in R’s early zombie life is fascinating. I love the concept of “What does it feel like to be a zombie?” and their “lifestyle” of deadness, not caring about anything. Barely able to communicate, feeling isolated even when surrounded, and too far dead to mind. It’s a fun idea to entertain for awhile. The zombies as more of a metaphorical deadness–and not an unsolvable one–keeps the book from having some of the depressing airs that so often come with the apocalypse stories. Even these good parts of the book were not exactly handled brilliantly, after all we’re slightly beaten over the head with YES R IS CHANGING, but the concept itself was enough entertainment to make up for all of the books short comings. At least for me.
One of my classes skype-called the author of “Warm Bodies” with some questions. Unfortunately I can’t truly capture that at all, so I’ll just talk about an interesting impression it left me with. I listened to Issac talk about how he had spent nine months of his life writing Warm Bodies (which explains a lot in my mind, I’ve been writing my book for six years and only now am I starting to think of the metaphorical implications of gender roles in my book and making sure I’m sending the right messages as I entertain). He answered all of these questions about the writing process and how the book got published and subsequently made into a film. It was just fascinating looking at this human being talking so seriously about work that I so did not respect as “Good”. Entertaining, yes. But never good. To see that something that I personally felt so superior too–much as I hate to admit that–was the product of another, real author. A professional author, even. Someone who’s life was also about writing. A flawed, human being doing their best. We all grow, we all make things that we loved at the time even though looking back we’re so much better at them now it’s hilarious. I at least, still love my broken stories. things that will never be fit for the public eye.
One doesn’t have to be perfect pitch to sing a song worth hearing.
One doesn’t have to have perfect prose to write something worth reading.
One doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be a good person, trying their hardest.
Excellent things to think about.
I look forward to seeing the film, I’d love to see these concepts more polished. As one might imagine, I don’t care how differently the film handles the story. (After all I am hardly a loyal fan.)As long as it’s entertaining in its own right with something interesting to think about, I’ll be happy to see it.