Bad News Comes in Threes: World War Z

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December 9, 2013 by carlywont


Sorry for the unintentional hiatus Books in a Tub readers! My husband and I went on our honeymoon last week and I wasn’t exactly about to be blogging from the beach in Mexico. I didn’t bring World War Z so I had to scramble and finish that when we got back. I’ve also been pretty amazingly lazy since our return. Something about seven straight days of doing absolutely nothing beyond sitting around kinda became a routine for me. Woops. (Sorry I’m not sorry, world.)

So! World War Z. I know you’re all chomping at the bit to hear my thoughts on this controversial lil piece. The truth is this: My feelings be complicated.

Going into World War Z, I secretly figured I would come out on the other side hating it. As I mentioned previously, I’m no zombie enthusiast. I do not find them particularly scary and I totally don’t get our cultural fascination with them. (DidWorld War Z change that for me? Well, kind of. I did have TWO zombie nightmares throughout the reading of this book.) In addition, the fact that Max Brooks’s previous book is The Zombie Survival Guide—a book whose readers I always silently judged—didn’t exactly do much for my already mediocre hopes.

In case you haven’t read it, World War Z is an “oral history of the zombie war.” Max Brooks was inspired by Studs Terkel’s The Good War, an oral history of WWII. InWorld War Z, the zombie apocalypse is over (more or less at least) and the unnamed (and largely unseen) narrator of the book is a journalist of sorts expanding on a UN Postwar Commission Report. The writer travels around the world collecting a myriad of accounts of the war, largely from military members and government workers. Each individual story is a few pages long and is set up as a direct transcription with minimal input/questions from the author.

When I first started reading World War Z I wasn’t sure I liked the oral history structure. Is it a lazy storytelling style? A cover up for poor writing skills (like an inability to string together a larger narrative)? Or is it innovative, experimental, fresh, new, different, ingenious? I couldn’t quite decide.

The more I read though, the more impressed I became. The setup is actually pretty tricky. We, the readers, are presumed to have lived through the zombie war and therefore know the basic details of what went down. In reality, obviously, that’s not true at all (unless I missed some really big news a few years back) and the real reader doesn’t know jack about this fictional zombie war. So, Max Brooks has to navigate revealing background information in a way that feels natural and not overly expository while still providing understanding for the reader. That’s a pretty awesome feat and one he pulled off really, really well. He peppers in details in a way that lets the facts of World War Z sink in gradually and nearly imperceptibly: very clever.

Yet I’d be lying if I said I didn’t force myself to get through some parts of this, my head down and eyes closed like I was walking through a Boston blizzard. When it comes down to it I’m just not that into reading about war. I was surprised at how much this book is literally about warfare: the logistics of battle, details of weaponry, coordination tactics, and the best ways to kill. Certain aspects I found super interesting—namely the role of the entertainment industry in promoting war propaganda and boosting morale, psychologically disturbed people imitating zombies, the breaking point of soldiers, and the cannibalism among those who traveled north. But many of the stories I found myself tempted to skim.

The style disallowed me from becoming too invested in any one character since the stories were one-off vignettes. If I didn’t find myself taken with a particular piece, there was no reason for me to read the story closely or pay attention since it would be over in a few pages never to appear again. This was also problematic for me because I love character-driven novels that delve deep into the lives of a select few people. Here instead the event itself is the main character.

That being said, I REALLY liked the stories I liked. I kind of love when independent characters’ stories intersect in novels (even though it can be interpreted as a sentimental plot ploy). So, it’s no surprise that my favorite stories in World War Zwere the two that take place in Kyoto and eventually intersect in a national garden outside of the city. I wish there had been more of this sort.

Other good World War Z shorts? The woman narrating her story of cannibalism in the north; the pilot who crash landed and was guided to safety by a mysterious radio operator; the man fighting in the catacombs of Paris; and the South African man telling his story from a third-person perspective.

I think I would have enjoyed World War Z more if there had been a greater focus on the psychological/homefront aspects of the zombie war. I kept wanting to peak into the lives of everyday civilians. What did they do to survive? What were their survival communities like? What kind of news trickled through to them? What was it like to watch a loved one turn into a zombie? That’s the kind of stuff I wanted to know. Unfortunately none of that was really answered.

Also, did anyone else notice how there’s like five women narrators out of dozens and dozens of men? C’mon dude.


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