World War Z by Max Brooks
Normally, I write a blurb or short synopsis of the book I’m reviewing; something like the back cover copy that hopefully tells you enough to know if you want to read it or not. However, World War Z was not a typical novel and as a result I’m having a hard time writing a typical blurb. It is written as “an oral history of the Zombie War” – a gathering of anecdotes from all kinds of people, in all kinds of places, with all kinds of stories. There is an overarching plot if you’re looking for it, but the magic of this book happens in the individual people and the snapshots of their experiences.
Tales of zombies are not new, with ancestors like HP Lovecraft and Mary Shelley, but Brooks tells this old tale with such a unique perspective you can’t help but read it as if for the first time. We look back on the entire incident from the finish line, focusing on details hardly ever seen in other zombie apocalypse stories. We see the first individual cases and a variety of responses. We see the gradual fall of society from all kinds of perspectives, and then we see society rebuilt. No angle was left unstudied. Politics, socioeconomics, psychology. Brooks took a really good look at these areas in today’s world, added zombies to the mix, and extrapolated what would happen next.
I loved this book if only for the perspectives and the amazing breadth and depth of the details, but scattered among the fifty plus anecdotes were a couple stories that really struck home for me. I am a nerd in a nerdy household. Josh and I have discussed zombie plans, usually with some humor and a sense of the ridiculous, but also with intelligence and forethought. And any time the apocalypse is brought up, whether it’s zombies or some other society-destroying event, I have this niggling little fear that all the disaster plans in the world wouldn’t be enough because I lack the single most important survival skill: the ability to run.
Brooks rides roughshod over that fear, creating several disabled characters who not only survive the zombie apocalypse but are realistic in their struggles and strengths. He highlights the tale of a blind Japanese man who retreats to the wilderness to keep from burdening his friends and relatives, to die dishonored and alone. Who instead, dispatches hundreds of zombies with a shovel and finds new meaning in his disability as the founder of a “Shield Society”.
Brooks also introduces us to Joe, a man who patrols his neighborhood from a wheelchair and scoffed when he encountered hesitance about his joining the Neighborhood Security Teams. “Hell-o! And what did she think we were facing anyway? It’s not like we had to chase them over fences and across backyards. They came to us. And if and when they did so, let’s just say, for the sake of argument, there was more than we could handle? Shit, if I couldn’t roll myself faster than a walking zombie, how could I have lasted this long?” I loved Joe’s voice, with his confidence in himself and his role, even through the breakdown and restructuring of society.
I’m waiting to see if the upcoming movie retains any of the unique and thought-provoking style of the book. So far, the trailers make it look like just another zombie movie. And that makes me sad, because World War Z was so much more than just another zombie story.