The second book for our Zombie Love Month series is World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. A decade after “victory” is declared, a nameless interviewer has compiled testimonies and anecdotes from survivors of the undead apocalypse that crippled the entire world.
WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
I can’t tell the subjects apart. Each interviewee sounds virtually the same. Now, I realize, there are probably 30-40 separate interviews in the novel and it can be hard to make that many voices perfectly distinct from each other, but come on. Give me a little more personality, please–especially since each character is speaking directly to the interviewer/reader, in first person. There are a few attempts to create “character,” but it mostly involves expletives. Everyone speaks perfect English, even though most of the subjects are not native English speakers. Everyone sounds the same.
Because each interview is laid out like a transcript, there’s also very little description of physical appearance or body language for each character. I have no idea what these people look like, no idea what they’re doing while they recall these terrible memories. Are they sweating? Are they crying? Are they stony-faced? Do they have severe injuries? There’s nothing there, nothing that makes me connect with these people. Give me some indirect characterization, please!
The subjects are also overwhelmingly male. I’m only on page 113 so far, but there have been 22 interviews. Of those interviews, 17 were men, 3 were women, and 2 were unspecified. The men are doctors, smugglers, generals, soldiers. With the women, we have one mayor (who only speaks of the night zombies attacked her family, and not how she became mayor of a thriving new model community), a mentally handicapped young woman, and a bitter old Russian soldier. What? Didn’t women survive this war? A lot of the men’s interviews talk about how people tried to protect women and children…so where are all of them? I can only hope they’re in the second half of the book, but the pattern tells me otherwise.
AND YOUR POINT IS…?
This is probably because I’ve had such trouble distinguishing and connecting to characters, but I don’t feel any tension at all. There’s no story here. There’s a play-by-play. There’s the facts. The introduction says that he’s publishing the interviews that were left out of a government report because they were too “intimate. […] Too many opinions, too many feelings. … We need clear facts and figures, unclouded by the human factor.” Except there is no human factor. And because there is no human factor, there’s no suspense. There’s no story.
There are many interesting points on the WWZ timeline: the denial, the bogus vaccine, the government-endorsed mass murder, etc. The interviews just don’t convey any sense of what it was like. I felt no panic from the Great Panic. So really…why should I bother reading this? Why bother reading a book that gets no reaction from me?
Some of the interviews were better than others, sure. The concept is really intriguing. However, I feel like this book just falls so far short of where I expected it to go. I space out when trying to read it. It is just not engaging. There are no characters for me to care about, no cliffhangers to fall off of, nothing that gives me any reason to keep reading. I think this would have been much more effective if it was written as a regular narrative, rather than laid out in a transcript-like format. If there had been first-person reactions from the interviewer and descriptions of the interviewees, it would have been much different, and probably a lot better. Read at your own risk. I’m thinking this may be one occasion where the movie is definitely better.
Rating: 2/5 stars.
Recommended for: Only the most die-hardist of zombie fanatics, or people who enjoy documentary/dry non-fiction style.