Hemon, Aleksandar. “The Making of Zombie Wars: A Novel”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.
Sex and Violence and Fun
Josh Levin is a young and aspiring screenwriter teaching English as a Second Language classes in Chicago. His laptop and his mind are full of ideas, but the only one to really matters to him and takes root is “Zombie Wars”. When he comes home to find his landlord, an unhinged army vet, rifling through his dirty laundry, he decides that the time has come to move in with his girlfriend, Kimmy. It’s domestic bliss at first, but Josh becomes involved with a student, a Bosnian woman named Ana, whose husband is jealous and violent. Disaster follows.
This is a quick and fun read but do not be misled by the title. It is really about Josh, a man with little motivation and the inability to speak out or break the rat race of his life. His girlfriend is just to good for him and his landlord was loaded with issues before Josh could finally break away. Josh wants to write a screenplay for a zombie movie and parts of his writing appears in between sections of the book on his life. To wit:
“Script idea #142: Aliens undercover as cabbies abduct the fiancée of the main character, who has to find a way to a remote planet to save her. Title: Love Trek.”
“Script idea #185: Teenager discovers his girlfriend’s beloved grandfather was a guard in a Nazi death camp. The boy’s grandparents are survivors, but he’s tantalizingly close to achieving deflowerment, so when a Nazi hunter arrives in town in pursuit of Grandpa, he has to distract him long enough to get laid. A riotous Holocaust comedy. Title: The Righteous Love.”
“Script idea #196: Rock star high out of his mind freaks out during a show, runs offstage, and is lost in streets crowded with his hallucinations. The teenage fan who finds him keeps the rock star for himself for the night. Mishaps and adventures follow. This one could be a musical: Singin’ in the Brain.”
I first read Aleksandar Hemon’s essay collection, “The Book of My Lives” last year and loved it. This, however, is something completely different. It is a dark comedy about lack of ambition and the consequences of desire that is unchecked and likely to remain that way.
The movie script that Josh has been developing will probably always be in development. The main character is Major Klopstock who is in gruesome mortal combat with an onslaught of undead foes. In other words, he is a slacker. Josh also has a tenuous relationship with his father, Bernie, suffering with prostate and who left his wife for a younger woman.
It is amazing that Josh has been able to maintain a relationship with Kimiko, a Japanese-American child psychologist who just happens to be his “beautiful Zen mistress”. What she sees in him is indeed a mystery. The same is true of his student Ana, a married emigre from Bosnia with whom he has some fun.
We have fun also reading the author’s wonderful madcap humor but to take it seriously is to find fault which I certainly do not want to do.
The prose shines throughout and there are some sentences that made me sit back and which I found reading over and over again because of the wonderful structure and the sheer beauty of the language. There are sentences that take your breath away for how radically they bend the English language. I do not think that this is a book for everyone especially since it is so dark and cynical. But it is also the story of a slacker trying to overcome writer’s block and it is wonderfully funny. There is nothing refined or nuanced in the book and it is a powerful and smart piece of writing.