In this unusual take on the zombie novel, the protagonist is one of the walking dead. Sometime in the near future, civilization has collapsed, and the world is a perpetual battleground between the living and the undead. “R” and his fellow zombies live in an abandoned airport, where they shuffle around mindlessly and occasionally hunt the living to satisfy their desire for human brains. But “R” is different; though he can’t speak or move like a living person, he is a thoughtful and sensitive soul who can’t help wondering why the world is in such terrible shape. Then he meets Julie, a living girl who sparks an unusual desire in him: instead of eating her brain, he wants to protect her. As “R” and Julie slowly get to know one another, they decide that it’s time to heal their damaged world — and maybe heal each other in the process.
I am emphatically not a reader of zombie novels, but so many people have raved about this one that curiosity got the better of me. Overall I thought the portrayal of zombies was very clever. In the world of this novel, they’re not necessarily mindless monsters; they just can’t communicate with the living (and, of course, they eat brains). But some things did confuse me: for example, “R” says he can’t remember anything about his former life, yet he’s able to make complex literary references (he mentions Moby Dick at one point). Why can he remember these details but not the bigger picture of his life? But speaking of literary references, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the characters’ names are “R” and Julie — there’s even a balcony scene! The book also mentions John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which got me to thinking…in a sense, this book hypothesizes what kind of world might exist if the lyrics of “Imagine” came true. Imagine there’s no countries, no religion, no possessions…and you might get a world close to this one. (Of course, Lennon also imagines world peace, so it’s not exactly identical.) Anyway, I have mixed feelings about this book, but I did find it quite thought-provoking.