“I think our group should read World War Z next,” my zombie-obsessed son suggested at our last book discussion. I admit that, although I indulge my children in any number of ways, I wasn’t too sure about this one. Did I want to read about zombies? Was it going to be a treatise in gore-dwelling prose that turned me off of my breakfast? Mind you, I’ve seen my share of slasher flicks and horror movies and lived to tell about them, but I prefer suspense to outright horror, especially in books, so I just wasn’t sure what we were in for.
World War Z is an oral history of the zombie wars that affected all of humanity in the recent past. Author Max Brooks, having already demonstrated his bona fides with the Zombie Survival Guide, compiled his history by interviewing survivors from all walks of life. And I do mean ALL. I quickly found myself engrossed (as opposed to grossed out) by the variety of perspectives Brooks provides through his accounts.
Consider the Japanese teenager who lived primarily in the virtual world until that world went silent, and he was forced to look around and notice that his mother hadn’t brought him any food lately. His mad, very-last-minute escape from the zombies propelled him into the real world in no uncertain terms.
Consider the beautiful young woman who lives in an institution because she is one of the feral children who were left to fend for themselves after their parents were killed. Her emotional development was stunted, so she is perpetually a four-year-old whose zombie imitations must be suppressed because the noise is so realistic that it scares everyone within earshot.
Consider the astronauts in the International Space Station observing the carnage on Earth and being powerless to do anything about it.
Consider the soldier who fought in every major campaign in the United States. His accounts showed the war’s trajectory, its impact, and its ultimate cost. How close the human race came to losing to the zombies because they were slow to recognize the true horror of what they faced and what needed to be done to defeat this new enemy became chillingly clear through his words.
Consider reading the book to get the many other perspectives Brooks provides the reader.
As we gathered for our discussion, everyone said that they “enjoyed” the book (Is enjoy the right word here—can you really enjoy a book about such devastation?). I had a similar conversation with my son—“Can you have a ‘lively’ conversation about the undead?” I asked. He considered it carefully and conceded that you can in fact.
My son said he chose the book to discuss because he thought it was thought provoking. By providing so many different perspectives, Brooks allowed readers to see themselves in the story or who they thought they would most be like under those circumstances.
My daughter said that she really wasn’t looking forward to reading it, but she really got into it as she went along. She liked the story of the woman whose helicopter crashes—she is in a heavily infested area, injured, and alone. She makes radio contact with a woman who talks her through to safety—who was that woman? We all found that story particularly fascinating.
My husband believes that the slow reaction to the real dangers they faced were very realistic, but that once the war was over and the enemy defeated, nations would revert to their squabbles with one another.
Chris’s fiancé thinks that, following such a devastating world-wide event, the survivors would maintain the bond they shared in defeating such an enemy for at least a generation or two.
Chris liked Brooks’ approach of presenting this as an oral history to help people remember what happened. It added to the author’s efforts to make it all seem so real.
I remember talking to Paul Bibeau at the Virginia Festival of the Book about his obsession with Dracula. I explained that my son’s obsession was with zombies. I asked Paul when he decided his obsession was a good thing. He said when he realized that he could make a buck at it. Then he said, “If your son is into zombies, he must have read Max Brooks.” I assured him that he had. He replied, “I hate that guy—he’s SO good at what he does!”
I concur—taking a fictional event, such as a world-wide infestation of zombies that lead to a fight for the very survival of the human race and presenting it as if it really did happen takes talent. I look forward to seeing where Max Brooks takes us next.
We will be suspending our group discussions until after Chris and David tie the knot in June. We’re kicking around the idea of revisiting a classic, such as Moby Dick or Robinson Crusoe, but we haven’t decided yet.