Part 3 (of 3)
This week marks the end of a three-part series on the best arts and entertainment that has been consistently overlooked time and time again. We’ve gone from children’s television to adult-themed film, and are now finding our final resting-place with my favourite medium, the novel.
In the first week, I recommended Avatar: The Last Airbender, an American animated television series that many people missed because of the show’s children demographic, its Asian-influenced animation, and M. Night Shyamalan’s deplorable film adaptation of the series’ first season. But seriously, folks, if you enjoy cartoons, then give Avatar: The Last Airbender a try.
Last week, I took a decidedly more adult turn by recommending the Canadian indie film Young People Fucking (or Y.P.F.). By reading the title alone, you should be able to guess why most people passed on this charming and, frankly, refreshing take on relationships and sex, and the emotions that bind the two together. Don’t let the title fool you—Young People Fucking is everything you’d expect it not to be: a damn fine film.
And now we close the circle, moving from the dramas of childhood, from the passions of adulthood, and toward fears nearly everyone on the planet can relate to. Sigmund Freud would be proud because we’re moving from sex to death.
THE OVERLOOKED: Max Brooks’ World War Z
Proving that horror can be just as smart and thoughtful as anything in mainstream fiction, Max Brook’s 2006 novel World War Z is the Bible of zombie fiction. Written as an oral history, the book is a collection of individual accounts of people who survived the zombie war. The stories are those of people of many nationalities, and reflect the resulting changes the war brought to the world, including the effects on the environment, religion, and geo-politics.
WHY YOU MISSED IT
While the zombie genre has seen something of a resurgence in popularity, its fanbase remains comparatively small. Let’s face it—the requisite gore and graphic violence in a zombie story of any form can be a put off to your average filmgoer or novel reader. Indeed, it sometimes appears that filmmakers and writers use zombies merely as an excuse to pour on the blood and pull out the guts. And then there’s the fact that World War Z is often shelved in the humour section of the bookstore instead of in the horror or general fiction section. As it turns out, World War Z is a follow-up to Brook’s 2003 book, The Zombie Survival Guide, which is more silly than serious—hence the shelving problem.
I’ve found that whenever horror fans feel the need to justify their interests, they often turn to George A. Romero as their champion of smarts and social significance. If you’ve ever seen, heard, or read anything about the director of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead (among several other zombie films), then you know that Romero is known for infusing “Social Commentary” into his zombie films. Such social commentary apparently validates Romero’s work and the zombie genre in general. But if you ask me, Romero is unbearably heavy-handed. As the zombies are awkwardly aggressive with their victims, so too is Romero with his audience.
But where Romero fails, Brooks succeeds. While Brooks’ zombie outbreak can easily be read as a metaphor for global crisis of any kind, and his exploration of the outbreak is certainly a thoughtful consideration and critique of our own responses to real-world crises, Word War Z is never heavy handed. The book easily lends itself to thoughtful discussion of its themes of survivalism, uncertainty, and human short-sightedness without ever demanding that we read it as such. Indeed, World War Z can be read merely for its entertainment purposes. On that front alone, the book is hard to put down. Both imaginative and nuanced, World War Z makes for a hell of a good read, and one I would recommend based solely on the pleasure I’ve had while reading it.
Yes, in case you’re wondering, the book is violent—at times disturbingly so. But the violence never seems gratuitous. In fact, as far as horror novels go, World War Z is relatively tame, and only uses violence when its inclusion is necessary.
The short of it is this: if you haven’t already given Max Brooks’ World War Z a try, consider doing so. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find.
Rowing For Pleasure is a weekly opinions column written by Z S Roe. Please leave a comment or question—all opinions are welcome, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. If you like what you read here, please subscribe.