Max Brooks: Building a Separate Legacy
Even if you are unfamiliar with Max Brooks, you are, more than likely, familiar with his father, the inimitable Mel Brooks – filmmaker extraordinaire. In the younger Brooks’ most famous outing, the author attempts to step away from his legacy of comedy to bring a fine horror outing and one of the best novels ever. Now, I have not been a fan of zombies in my life. I did have my brush with the Walking Dead that tired around Season Three or Four, and I can remember Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” terrifying me as a little kid (something I quickly reconciled), and, aside from the classic Night of the Living Dead (whose sequels and knockoffs have collectively bored me to tears), the threat of zombies has not terrified me.
So Brooks’ book World War Z, with its scores of praise from more renowned critics, was not my first choice. Once I picked it up, however, I found I could not put it down.
Anyone expecting a straight narrative, or for that matter, anything that resembled the Brad Pitt debacle that still managed to make billions of bank, is in for a big surprise. Dubbed “An Oral History of the Zombie War,” the novel chronicles the tales as near vignettes of the survivors of the zombie apocalypse. The narrator of the book follows the outbreak of the threat to its spread and eventual defeat by interviewing first-hand witnesses and getting their personal stories from when they were on the ground, living out the moment. By the time the narrator comes along, the war is over. There are still zombies here and there, but the threat has been contained and the world is picking up the pieces. The novel, as much political satire and sociopolitical commentary on the modern state of things, owes its insight to Brooks’ lineage. The son proves just as perceptive as his father. Take, for instance, the short, sad account of the fate of the entire country of North Korea. When interviewed, South Korean official Hyungchoi Choi admits that no one knows what happened north of the Demilitarized Zone. Even the South Korean spies have vanished. There is some conjecture as to the fate, but no one knows for sure what happened. Just that the whole country has gone dark.
I wish the movie could have been more like this. A mockumentary, a collection of interviews complete with flashbacks to the scenes as they unfolded. The problem with that, I believe, is that with Pitt attached, he’d be the star, and the only recurring/starring role in the novel is that of the narrator himself, a Studs Terkel kind of journalist who is decidedly as much a non-action hero as one can get.
But Brooks’ novel succeeds in elevating the genre to something literary. A commentary on the world today, a critique or at least an observance of how a catastrophic global event might devastate our global community, catching us unprepared, and the resilience of the human condition to thrive despite the odds.
I take the tour at the Crescent at snap the requisite photos. We start on the second floor, then move up to the third, then down all the way to the basement, all as the tour guide mixes building history with ghostly encounters in the present day. The basement is revealed to have been a morgue during the hotels darkest era. I ask the tour guide about the picture in the elevator, but get no clear answer. It is nearly ten o’clock when the tour ends, and, realizing the hour, I rush out and down the hill, trying my friend on the phone, hoping I haven’t missed our meeting. It is the real reason I’m here in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, after all.