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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Making of Zombie Wars

Aleksandar Hemon

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To purchase The Making of Zombie Wars

Title: The Making of Zombie Wars
Author: Aleksandar Hemon
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015
Length: 305 pages
Availability: The Making of Zombie Wars - US
The Making of Zombie Wars - UK
The Making of Zombie Wars - Canada
The Making of Zombie Wars - India

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Our Assessment:

B : fine in its details, but doesn't add up to enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Chicago Tribune . 30/4/2015 Katherine A. Powers
Entertainment Weekly B 21/5/2015 Darren Franich
The LA Times . 15/5/2015 Carolyn Kellogg
The NY Times Book Rev. . 7/6/2015 David Gilbert
San Francisco Chronicle . 22/5/2015 Matthew Gilbert
The Spectator A 12/9/2015 Tim Martin
Wall St. Journal . 15/5/2015 Sam Sacks
The Washington Post . 26/5/2015 Ron Charles

  From the Reviews:
  • "The membrane between Joshua's inner and outer worlds becomes increasingly porous, and the book ends with a transmutational flourish that is deeply and comically satisfying." - Katherine A. Powers, Chicago Tribune

  • "Itís a mess. Soís the book around him. Hemonís prose is cutting and he has a gift for surrealism, but Zombie falls victim to its own meandering atonality. Itís a farce played for pathos -- which is another way of saying itís not funny." - Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

  • "The Making of Zombie Wars puts an everyday guy in manic, absurd circumstances that snowball into more absurdity. (...) It's a delightful ride through an ordinary life kicking into high, crazy gear. With zombies." - Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The Making of Zombie Wars does retain a taste of Sarajevo (...) but for the most part this is Hemonís first foray into the purely American soul (.....) Joshua has no follow-through; heís all pitch. (...) The novel is a riff on the picaresque, Joshua Levin the most passive-aggressive of entitled rogues. (...) The book is funny and pleasantly loose, though not always a success." - David Gilbert, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The raucous comedy never strays far from the post-traumatic stress. (...) At times, The Making of Zombie Wars feels slighter than those works, even as it deals in war and displacement; there are too few characters drawn in enough detail and with enough heart to inspire an emotional attachment. But then Hemonís writing style is as vital and rewarding as ever." - Matthew Gilbert, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(D)readfully, wrigglingly, antisocially funny: the sort of book thatís difficult to read in public without undignified honks of laughter." - Tim Martin, The Spectator

  • "Mr. Hemon is a lovely writer, and the novel is stuffed with quotable sentences, especially on the pitiable topic of male longing (.....) But Mr. Hemonís tongue-in-cheek riffing on cinematic conventions grows frustrating." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "All this zombie-spiked zaniness is boosted by Hemonís adroit style, his ability to re-create in written language the comic timing of a flawless oral delivery. (...) But Hemon is also a master at camouflaging the deeper elements of this novel amid its tomfoolery. Among the strangest aspects is Joshuaís devotion to the work of 17th-century Dutch thinker Baruch Spinoza" - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In The Making of Zombie Wars Northwestern-grad (majoring in film-studies, minoring in philosophy) Joshua Levin is in his early thirties, living in Chicago, in a reasonably satisfying relationship with a child psychologist, teaching English-as-a-second-language to eastern European immigrants at a Jewish vocational school, and trying to break into the world of screenwriting. The film-script idea he starts trying to flesh out (after his workshop-teacher complains: "let's pretend you don't change your mind every week") is a zombie flick -- Zombie Wars -- and the chapters in the novel following his (mis)adventures alternate with brief scenes from the work in progress; peppered throughout the story are also brief (and occasionally amusing) 'Script Ideas', as they come to Joshua.
       The novel is set in 2003, the backdrop of the junior Bush's misguided but not yet catastrophic foray into Iraq prominent throughout -- as are the after-echoes of the Yugoslavian conflict(s) of the 1990s, which several of those in Joshua's orbit (a workshop classmate; the attractive Ana in his ESL class) survived.
       Cinematically, The Making of Zombie Wars slowly builds up to nearly exactly its midway point, setting the stage in following the somewhat aimless Joshua around, before it all then comes crashing down. There's his somewhat disturbing and disturbed landlord, Stagger, a Desert Storm veteran, whose actions push Joshua even closer to girlfriend Kimmy -- who seems happy to take their relationship to another level. Meanwhile, however, there's also the tempting and increasingly flirtatious Ana. And there's his film script, which everybody else seems to be more enthusiastic about and confident in than he is.
       Joshua recognizes his screen-writing problem:

The problem, however, was that he could never figure out how to establish the necessary determinism of the plot: characters would do this or that, while neither his will nor his talent was ever strong enough to compel them to follow their goddamn trajectory.
       Personally, Joshua is similarly adrift, re-active rather than active. He clearly feels emasculated -- often literally so: his much more successful sister, Rachel, helpfully calls him 'Jackie', for one, while when his relationship with Kimmy gets more serious she takes control in the bedroom, handcuffing him to the bedposts and having her way with him. In his personal life, he also shows little will (or talent).
       His fate is determined by others' actions, which he seems to have little power to influence -- and it's a fate that gets messier as his different worlds collide, almost exactly midway through the novel: it's pretty much all downhill from there.
       He can dream, but he's barely able to influence or determine his own reality:
In a perfect universe, he could talk Kimmy and Ana into a permanent ménage à trois and be forever snug as the meat in the comfort sandwich. This was not a perfect universe, however; it was barely a world.
       Joshua's life seems at least on a vaguely upward arc for the first half of the novel. There are setbacks and issues, but at least some things are falling into place; then they collide, and it all collapses around him. In no small part, his problems are due to his inability to commit -- to a woman, to his screenplay, to much of anything. He is unable to take advantage of a generous offer to push him and his screenplay -- unable even to act on the friendly advice he's given, as to how he might further his career (but then it's never very convincing that he really believes this could be his career). As to his relationships with women, as it turns out, he essentially has no say.
       Ana suggests he should read Anna Karenina:
     "You must read it. It is beautiful. It is about real life."
     "Right, real life. I have no interest in that at this time. Real life kind of makes me sick."
       To turn to a book to find 'real life' is, of course, already stepping back from reality -- but Joshua can't even bear this form of considering the real. Buffeted as he is by real life, once can sympathize; nevertheless, his flailing attempts at action -- and at fiction, in the form of his screenplay -- are feeble efforts at engagement with the world. It's hard to believe he is thirty-three; he is not childish, but he is very immature.
       At one point Joshua says: "I don't care about the real or the unreal. [...] I just want to tell a story". On this level, to some extent, Hemon succeeds: he tells a (part-of-a-)life-story, in a reasonably convincing way; a slice of life when things come to a head, and his protagonist's life is tossed around by the actions of those around him. It's fine, and scene by scene often quite good, but it doesn't add up to all too much. Hemon does add a nice turnabout in concluding the novel, which adds a bit of resonant depth to the whole -- but not nearly enough.
       Like much of what Joshua does, the book feels desultory or even half-assed, going through many of the motions but just not all the way there. Typical for the book is the description:
A TV set in the upper corner showed Saddam's statue coming down like a lost erection.
       Sex does play a prominent role in the novel, so it's not surprising Joshua/Hemon see it everywhere, but this is forced -- and simply wrong. From its entirely upright position -- not typical of an erection -- Saddam's statue did not in any way ... deflate upon being pulled down; it remained entirely rigid -- in no way resembling a 'lost erection'. Noteworthy, too, is the actual conclusion of that toppling-scene, as the statue is ripped out of its base -- definitely not the way most erections are lost, and an image so memorable (see the video for yourself) it can surely not be ignored in any novel-description that mentions it, even just in passing. (Indeed, surely Hemon could have used this better, fitting in so well with the theme of Joshua's own emasculation as it does.) Hemon goes for the cheap, throwaway comparison -- which might work for a less iconic bit of footage (i.e. if we relied just on his words, without any memory of the actual scene), but surely doesn't here; a bad misstep in a novel that tries to also anchor its narrative in recent history.
       The Making of Zombie Wars is reasonably well-written; there's little here that is jarringly bad, and many of the scenes are quite well-done. But it doesn't add up to nearly enough. For all the sex and violence -- and the zombie-movie-scenes -- it is all, like Joshua himself, rather blah -- a success, in that respect, but surely not of the sort Hemon intended (or the reader likely hoped for). The final narrative twist is a neat way of ending the story -- but also just an escape-strategy from a novel that in any case has run its rather shallow course.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 May 2015

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The Making of Zombie Wars: Reviews: Aleksandar Hemon: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       Yugoslavian-born American author Aleksandar Hemon was born in 1964.

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© 2015 the complete review

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