Zone One

Zone One

by Colson Whitehead

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

In this wry take on the post-apocalyptic horror novel, a pandemic has devastated the planet. The plague has sorted humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead.

Now the plague is receding, and Americans are busy rebuild­ing civilization under orders from the provisional govern­ment based in Buffalo. Their top mission: the resettlement of Manhattan. Armed forces have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One—but pockets of plague-ridden squatters remain. While the army has eliminated the most dangerous of the infected, teams of civilian volunteers are tasked with clearing out a more innocuous variety—the “malfunctioning” stragglers, who exist in a catatonic state, transfixed by their former lives.

Mark Spitz is a member of one of the civilian teams work­ing in lower Manhattan. Alternating between flashbacks of Spitz’s desperate fight for survival during the worst of the outbreak and his present narrative, the novel unfolds over three surreal days, as it depicts the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the impossible job of coming to grips with the fallen world.

And then things start to go wrong.

Both spine chilling and playfully cerebral, Zone One bril­liantly subverts the genre’s conventions and deconstructs the zombie myth for the twenty-first century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307455178
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/10/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 88,444
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

COLSON WHITEHEAD is the author of the national best seller Sag Harbor and the novels The Intui tionist, John Henry Days, and Apex Hides the Hurt, as well as The Colossus of New York, a collection of essays. A recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in New York City.

Hometown:

Brooklyn, NY

Date of Birth:

November 6, 1969

Place of Birth:

New York, NY

Education:

Harvard College, BA in English & American Literature

Read an Excerpt

He always wanted to live in New York. His Uncle Lloyd lived downtown on Lafayette, and in the long stretches between visits he daydreamed about living in his apartment. When his mother and father dragged him to the city for that season's agreed-upon exhibit or good-for-you Broadway smash, they usually dropped in on Uncle Lloyd for a quick hello. These afternoons were preserved in a series of photographs taken by strangers. His parents were holdouts in an age of digital multiplicity, raking the soil in lonesome areas of resistance: a coffee machine that didn't tell time, dictionaries made out of paper, a camera that only took pictures. The family camera did not transmit their coordinates to an orbiting satellite. It did not allow them to book airfare to beach resorts with close access to rain forests via courtesy shuttle. There was no prospect of video, high-def or otherwise. The camera was so backward that every lurching specimen his father enlisted from the passersby was able to operate it sans hassle, no matter the depth of cow-eyed vacancy in their tourist faces or local wretchedness inverting their spines. His family posed on the museum steps or beneath the brilliant marquee with the poster screaming over their left shoulders, always the same composition. The boy stood in the middle, his parents' hands dead on his shoulders, year after year. He didn't smile in every picture, only that percentage culled for the photo album. Then it was in the cab to his uncle's and up the elevator once the doorman screened them. Uncle Lloyd dangled in the doorframe and greeted them with a louche "Welcome to my little bungalow."

As his parents were introduced to Uncle Lloyd's latest girlfriend, the boy was down the hall, giddy and squeaking on the leather of the cappuccino sectional and marveling over the latest permutations in home entertainment. He searched for the fresh arrival first thing. This visit it was the wireless speakers haunting the corners like spindly wraiths, the next he was on his knees before a squat blinking box that served as some species of multimedia brainstem. He dragged a finger down their dark surfaces and then huffed on them and wiped the marks with his polo shirt. The televisions were the newest, the biggest, levitating in space and pulsing with a host of extravagant functions diagrammed in the unopened owner's manuals. His uncle got every channel and maintained a mausoleum of remotes in the storage space inside the ottoman. The boy watched TV and loitered by the glass walls, looking out on the city through smoky anti-UV glass, nineteen stories up.

The reunions were terrific and rote, early tutelage in the recursive nature of human experience. "What are you watching?" the girlfriends asked as they padded in bearing boutique seltzer and chips, and he'd say "The buildings," feeling weird about the pull the skyline had on him. He was a mote cycling in the wheels of a giant clock. Millions of people tended to this magnificent contraption, they lived and sweated and toiled in it, serving the mechanism of metropolis and making it bigger, better, story by glorious story and idea by unlikely idea. How small he was, tumbling between the teeth. But the girlfriends were talking about the monster movies on TV, the women in the monster movies bolting through the woods or shriveling in the closet trying not to make a sound or vainly flagging down the pickup that might rescue them from the hillbilly slasher. The ones still standing at the credit roll made it through by dint of an obscure element in their character. "I can't stand these scary stories," the girlfriends said before returning to the grown-ups, attempting an auntly emanation as if they might be the first of their number promoted to that office. His father's younger brother was fastidious when it came to expiration dates.

He liked to watch monster movies and the city churning below. He fixed on odd details. The ancient water towers lurking atop obstinate old prewars and, higher up, the massive central-air units that hunkered and coiled on the striving high-rises, glistening like extruded guts. The tar-paper pates of tenements. He spotted the occasional out-of-season beach chair jackknifed on gravel, seemingly gusted up from the street below. Who was its owner? This person staked out corners of the city and made a domain. He squinted at the slogans cantering along stairwell entrances, the Day-Glo threats and pidgin manifestos, a.k.a.'s of impotent revolutionaries. Blinds and curtains were open, half open, shut, voids in a punch card decipherable only by defunct mainframes lodged in the crust of unmarked landfills. Pieces of citizens were on display in the windows, arranged by a curator with a taste for non sequitur: the splayed pinstriped legs of an urban golfer putting into a colander; half a lady's torso, wrapped in a turquoise blazer, as glimpsed through a trapezoid; a fist trembling on a titanium desk. A shadow bobbed behind a bathroom's bumpy glass, steam slithering through the slit.

He remembered how things used to be, the customs of the skyline. Up and down the island the buildings collided, they humiliated runts through verticality and ambition, sulked in one another's shadows. Inevitability was mayor, term after term. Yesterday's old masters, stately named and midwifed by once-famous architects, were insulted by the soot of combustion engines and by technological advances in construction. Time chiseled at elegant stonework, which swirled or plummeted to the sidewalk in dust and chips and chunks. Behind the façades their insides were butchered, reconfigured, rewired according to the next era's new theories of utility. Classic six into studio honeycomb, sweatshop killing floor into cordoned cubicle mill. In every neighborhood the imperfect in their fashion awaited the wrecking ball and their bones were melted down to help their replacements surpass them, steel into steel. The new buildings in wave upon wave drew themselves out of rubble, shaking off the past like immigrants. The addresses remained the same and so did the flawed philosophies. It wasn't anyplace else. It was New York City.

The boy was smitten. His family stopped by Uncle Lloyd's every couple of months. He drank the seltzer, he watched monster movies, he was a sentry at the window. The building was a totem sheathed in blue metal, a changeling in the nest of old walk-ups. The zoning commission had tucked the bribes into their coats, and now there he was, floating over the tapering island. There was a message there, if he could teach himself the language. On rainy-day visits the surfaces of the buildings were pitiless and blank, as they were this day, years later. With the sidewalks hidden from view, the boy conjured an uninhabited city, where no one lived behind all those miles and miles of glass, no one caught up with loved ones in living rooms filled with tasteful and affirming catalog furniture, and all the elevators hung like broken puppets at the end of long cables. The city as ghost ship on the last ocean at the rim of the world. It was a gorgeous and intricate delusion, Manhattan, and from crooked angles on overcast days you saw it disintegrate, were forced to consider this tenuous creature in its true nature.

If you'd asked him on any of those childhood afternoons what he wanted to be when he grew up—tapping his shoulder as the family car inserted itself into the queue for the Midtown Tunnel or as they hummed toward their exit on the Long Island Expressway—he would have had nothing to offer with regards to profession or avocation. His father wanted to be an astronaut when he was a kid, but the boy had never been anything but earthbound, kicking pebbles. All he was truly sure of was that he wanted to live in a city gadget, something well-stocked and white-walled, equipped with rotating bosomy beauties. His uncle's apartment resembled the future, a brand of manhood waiting on the other side of the river. When his unit finally started sweeping beyond the wall—whenever that was—he knew he had to visit Uncle Lloyd's apartment, to sit on the sectional one last time and stare at the final, empty screen in the series. His uncle's building was only a few blocks past the barrier and he found himself squinting at it when it strode into view. He searched for the apartment, counting metallic blue stories and looking for movement. The dark glass relinquished nothing. He hadn't seen his uncle's name on any of the survivor rolls and prayed against a reunion, the slow steps coming down the hall.

If you'd asked him about his plans at the time of the ruin, the answer would have come easily: lawyering. He was bereft of attractive propositions, constitutionally unaccustomed to enthusiasm, and generally malleable when it came to his parents' wishes, adrift on that gentle upper-middle-class current that kept its charges cheerfully bobbing far from the shoals of responsibility. It was time to stop drifting. Hence, law. He was long past finding it ironic when his unit swept a building in that week's grid and they came upon a den of lawyers. They slogged through the blocks day after day and there had been too many firms in too many other buildings for it to have any novelty. But this day he paused. He slung his assault rifle over his shoulder and parted the blinds at the end of the corridor. All he wanted was a shred of uptown. He tried to orient himself: Was he looking north or south? It was like dragging a fork through gruel. The ash smeared the city's palette into a gray hush on the best of days, but introduce clouds and a little bit of precip and the city became an altar to obscurity. He was an insect exploring a gravestone: the words and names were crevasses to get lost in, looming and meaningless.

This was the fourth day of rain, Friday afternoon, and a conditioned part of him submitted to end-of-the-week lassitude, even if Fridays had lost their meaning. Hard to believe that reconstruction had progressed so far that clock-watching had returned, the slacker's code, the concept of weekend. It had been a humdrum couple of days, reaffirming his belief in reincarnation: everything was so boring that this could not be the first time he'd experienced it. A cheerful thought, in its way, given the catastrophe. We'll be back. He dropped his pack, switched off the torch in his helmet, and pushed his forehead to the glass as if he were at his uncle's, rearranging the architecture into a message. The towers emerged out of smudged charcoal, a collection of figments and notions of things. He was fifteen floors up, in the heart of Zone One, and shapes trudged like slaves higher and higher into midtown.

They called him Mark Spitz nowadays. He didn't mind.

Mark Spitz and the rest of Omega Unit were half done with 135 Duane Street, chugging down from the roof at a productive clip. All clear so far. Only a few signs of mayhem in the building. A ransacked petty cash drawer on eighteen, half-eaten takeout rotting on scattered desks: superannuated currency and the final lunches. As in most businesses they swept, the offices had shut their doors before things completely deteriorated. The chairs were snug at their desks, where they had been tucked by the maintenance crew on their last night of work, the last sane evening in the world, only a few askew and facing the doors in trample-exit disarray.

In the silence, Mark Spitz signed off on a rest period for himself. Who knew? If things had been otherwise, he might have taken a position in this very firm, once he completed the obstacles attendant to a law degree. He'd been taking prep classes when the curtain fell and hadn't worried about getting in somewhere, or graduating or getting some brand of job afterward. He'd never had trouble with the American checklist, having successfully executed all the hurdles of his life's stages, from preschool to junior high to college, with unwavering competence and nary a wobble into exceptionality or failure. He possessed a strange facility for the mandatory. Two days into kindergarten, for example, he attained the level of socialization deemed appropriate for those of his age and socioeconomic milieu (sharing, no biting, an almost soulful contemplation of instructions from people in authority) with a minimum of fuss. He nailed milestone after developmental milestone, as if every twitch were coached. Had they been aware of his location, child behaviorists would have cherished him, observing him through binoculars and scratching their ledgers as he confirmed their data and theories in his anonymous travails. He was their typical, he was their most, he was their average, receiving hearty thumbs-ups from the gents in the black van parked a discreet distance across the street. In this world, however, his reward was that void attending most human endeavor, with which all are well acquainted. His accomplishments, such as they were, gathered on the heap of the unsung.

Mark Spitz kept his eyes open and watched his environment for cues, a survivalist even at a tender age. There was a code in every interaction, and he tuned in. He adjusted easily to the introduction of letter grades, that first measure of one's facility with arbitrary contests. He staked out the B or the B chose him: it was his native land, and in high school and college he did not stray over the county line. At any rate his lot was irrevocable. He was not made team captain, nor was he the last one picked. He sidestepped detention and honor rolls with equal aplomb. Mark Spitz's high school had abolished the yearbook practice of nominating students the Most Likely to Do This or That, in the spirit of universal self-esteem following a host of acrimonious parent-teacher summits, but his most appropriate designation would have been Most Likely Not to Be Named the Most Likely Anything, and this was not a category. His aptitude lay in the well-executed muddle, never shining, never flunking, but gathering himself for what it took to progress past life's next random obstacle. It was his solemn expertise.

Got him this far.

He burped up some of that morning's breakfast paste, which had been concocted, according to the minuscule promises on the side of the tube, to replicate a nutritionist's concept of how mama's flapjacks topped with fresh blueberries tasted. His hand leaped to his mouth before he remembered he was alone. The attorneys had leased four floors, a sleek warren, and hadn't been doing too bad for themselves from the extent of their renovation. The floors above were chopped up into drab and modest suites, with dreary watercolors hooked into the spongy drywall of the waiting rooms and the same scuffed puke-pink tiles underfoot. Amenable leases made for a varied group of tenants, as motley as the collection found in the average rush-hour subway car. His unit swept consulting firms with fleet and efficient-sounding names, they poked through the supply rooms of prosthetics dealers and mail-order seed companies. They swept travel agencies nearly extinct in an internet age, the exhortations and invitations on the posters hitting shrill and desperate registers. On nineteen, they walked in formation through the soundproofed rooms of a movie-production house that specialized in straight-to-video martial arts flicks and in the gloom mistook a cardboard cutout of an action hero for a hostile. They were in the same kind of places day after day. Keys for the communal bathrooms down the hall hung on His and Hers hooks in Reception, affixed to broad plastic tongues. Recycled paper stretched expectantly across tables in doctors' examination rooms like a smear of oatmeal and the magazines in the waiting rooms described an exuberant age now remote and hard to reconcile. It was impossible to find a gossip magazine or newsweekly that had been published beyond a certain date. There was no more gossip and no more news.

When they stepped into the lawyers' suite they stumbled into a sophisticated grotto, as if the floors had been dealt into the building from some more upscale deck. In the waiting room, their helmet lights roved over the perplexing geometric forms in the carpet that they sullied with their combat boots, the broad panels of dark zebra wood covering the walls with elegant surety, and the low, sleek furniture that promised bruises yet, when tested, compressed one's body according to newly discovered principles of somatic harmony. Their three lights converged on the portrait of a man with flinty eyes and the narrowed mouth of a peckish fox—one of the founding fathers keeping watch from the great beyond. After a pause their lights diverged again, groping for movement in the corners and dark places.

Mark Spitz felt it the instant they pushed in the glass doors and saw the firm's name hovering in grim steel letters over the receptionist's desk: these guys will crush you. Tradition and hard deals, inviolable fine print that would outlast its framers. He didn't know the nature of their practice. Perhaps they only represented charities and nonprofits, but in that case he was sure their clients out-healed, out-helping-handed, overall out-charitied their competing charities, if it can be said that charities competed with one another. But of course they must, he thought. Even angels are animals.

Once inside, the unit split up and he swept solo through the workstations. The office furniture was hypermodern and toylike, fit for an app garage or a graphic-design firm keen on sketching the future. The surfaces of the desks were thick and transparent, hacked out of plastic and elevating the curvilinear monitors and keyboards in dioramas of productivity. The empty ergonomic chairs posed like amiable spiders, whispering a multiplicity of comfort and lumbar massage. He saw himself aloft on the webbing of the seat, wearing the suspenders and cuff links of his tribe, releasing wisps of unctuous cologne whenever he moved his body. Bring me the file, please. He goosed a leprechaun bobblehead with his assault rifle and sent it wiggling on its spring. Per his custom, he avoided looking at the family pictures.

He interpreted: We are studied in the old ways, and acolytes of what's to come. A fine home for a promising young lawyer. For all that had transpired outside this building in the great unraveling, the pure industry of this place still persisted. Insisting on itself. He felt it in his skin even though the people were gone and all the soft stuff was dead. Moldering lumps shot out tendrils in the common-area fridges, and the vicinities of the dry water-coolers were devoid of shit-shooting idlers, but the ferns and yuccas were still green because they were plastic, the awards and citations remained secure on the walls, and the portraits of the bigwigs preserved one afternoon's calculated poses. These things remained.

He heard three shots from the other end of the floor, in familiar staccato—Gary shooting open a door. Fort Wonton warned them repeatedly about brutalizing, vandalizing, or even extending the odd negative vibe toward the properties whenever possible, for obvious reasons. For convenience's sake, Buffalo printed up No-No Cards—laminated instruction squares that the sweepers were supposed to keep on their persons at all times. The broken window with the red circle and diagonal line across it was at the top of the deck. Gary couldn't restrain himself, however, future tenants and the grand design be damned. Why use the doorknob when you could light it up? "They can fix it when they move in," Gary said, as the smoke cleared from the C-4 he'd used to vaporize the door of an Italian restaurant's walk-in freezer. His crazy grin. As if cleaning up after semiautomatic fire were the same as touching up dings in the plaster where the previous tenants had hung their black-and-white landscapes. Gary dematerialized the half-closed curtains of department-store dressing rooms, converted expensive Japanese room dividers into twisting confetti, and woe to bathroom stalls with sticky hinges.

"Coulda been one of them in there trying to remember how to take a piss," Gary explained.

"Never heard of such a case," Kaitlyn said.

"This is New York City, man."

Kaitlyn rationed him to one unnecessary act of carnage per floor and Gary made the appropriate adjustments, even applying timeworn principles of suspense to when he attacked his targets. They never knew when he'd strike next. He had just made his selection for the fifteenth floor.

Mark Spitz got in gear. Gary was close and he wanted to look busy in order to head off any wisecracks about his work ethic. He turned from the window and briefly caught an edge of last night's dream—he was in the country, undulating farmland, perhaps at Happy Acres—before it squirmed away. He shook it off. He kicked in the door to Human Resources, thought "Maybe I'll come back and ask for a job when this is all over," and saw his error.

The door was not the issue. After all this time in the Zone, he knew the right place to slam these keypad doors so that they popped open, presto. The mistake lay in succumbing to the prevailing delusions. Giving in to that pandemic of pheenie optimism that was inescapable nowadays and made it hard to breathe, a contagion in its own right. They were on him in an instant.

They had been there since the beginning, the four of them. Perhaps one had been attacked down on the pavement by "some nut," that colorful metropolitan euphemism, and was sent home after getting a few stitches at the local underfunded ER—Do you have your insurance card handy?—before they understood the nature of the disaster. Then she turned feral and one lucky coworker made it out in time, locked the door, and left her cubicle-mates to fend for themselves. Some variation on that story. No one came back to help because they were overcome by their own situations.

He was the first live human being the dead had seen since the start, and the former ladies of HR were starving. After all this time, they were a thin membrane of meat stretched over bone. Their skirts were bunched on the floor, having slid off their shrunken hips long ago, and the dark jackets of their sensible dress suits were made darker still, and stiffened, by jagged arterial splashes and kernels of gore. Two of them had lost their high heels at some point during the long years of bumping around the room looking for an exit. One of them wore the same brand of panties his last two girlfriends had favored, with the distinctive frilled red edges. They were grimed and torn. He couldn't help but notice the thong, current demands on his attention aside. He'd made a host of necessary recalibrations but the old self made noises from time to time. Then that new self stepped in. He had to put them down.

The youngest one wore its hair in a style popularized by a sitcom that took as its subject three roommates of seemingly immiscible temperaments and their attempts to make their fortune in this contusing city. A crotchety super and a flamboyant neighbor rounded out the ensemble, and it was still appointment television, a top-ten show, at the time of the disaster. The hairdo was called a Marge, after Margaret Halstead, the charmingly klutzy actress who'd trademarked it in the old days of red carpets and flirty tête-à-têtes on late-night chat shows. She hadn't done anything for Mark Spitz—too skinny—but the legions of young ladies who fled their stunted towns and municipalities to reinvent themselves in the Big City recognized something in her flailings, and fetishized this piece of her. They had been reeled in by the old lie of making a name for oneself in the city; now they had to figure out how to survive. Hunt-and-gather rent money, forage ramen. In this week's written-up clubs and small-plate eateries, loose flocks of Marges were invariably underfoot, sipping cinnamon-rimmed novelty cocktails and laughing too eagerly.

The Marge nabbed Mark Spitz first, snatching his left bicep and taking it in its teeth. It never looked at his face, ferocious on the mesh of his fatigues and aware exclusively of the meat it knew was underneath. He'd forgotten how much it hurt when a skel tried to get a good chomp going; it had been some time since one had gotten this close. The Marge couldn't penetrate the intricate blend of plastic fibers—only an idiot cast aspersions on the new miracle fabric, born of plague-era necessity—but each rabid sally sent him howling. The rest of Omega would be here soon, tromping down the halls. He heard the sound of teeth splintering. The sweepers were supposed to stay together, the Lieutenant was firm about that, to prevent this very situation. But the last few grids had been so quiet, they hadn't stuck to orders.

The Marge was occupied for the moment—it took time for their diminished perceptions to catch on to the futility of the enterprise—so he directed his attention to the skel charging from two o'clock.

The bushy eyebrows, the whisper of a mustache—it was hard to avoid recognizing in this one his sixth-grade English teacher, Miss Alcott, who had diagrammed sentences in a soupy Bronx accent and fancied old-style torpedo bras. She smelled of jasmine when she passed his desk, plucking vocab quizzes. He'd always had a soft spot for Miss Alcott.

This one was probably the first infected. Everything below its eyes was a dark, gory muzzle, the telltale smear produced when a face burrowed deep into live flesh. Just another day at the office when she gets bit by some New York whacko while loading up on spring mix at the corner deli's Salad Lounge. Full of plague but unaware. That night the shivers came, and the legendary bad dreams everyone had heard about and prayed against—the harbingers, the nightmares that were the subconscious rummaging through a lifetime for some kind of answer to or escape from this trap. With those early strains, you might last a whole day without flipping. She returns to her cubicle the next day because she hadn't taken a sick day in years. Then transformation.

It happened every so often that he recognized something in these monsters, they looked like someone he had known or loved. Eighth-grade lab partner or lanky cashier at the mini-mart, college girlfriend spring semester junior year. Uncle. He lost time as his brain buzzed on itself. He had learned to get on with the business at hand, but on occasion Mark Spitz fixed on eyes or a mouth that belonged to someone lost, actively seeking concordance. He hadn't decided if conjuring an acquaintance or loved one into these creatures was an advantage or not. A "successful adaptation," as the Lieutenant put it. When Mark Spitz thought about it—when they were bivouacked at night in some rich fuck's loft or up to their chins in their sleeping bags on the floor of a Wall Street conference room—perhaps these recognitions ennobled his mission: He was performing an act of mercy. These things might have been people he knew, not-quites and almost-could-be's, they were somebody's family and they deserved release from their blood sentence. He was an angel of death ushering these things on their stalled journey from this sphere. Not a mere exterminator eliminating pests. He shot Miss Alcott in the face, converting resemblance to red mist, and then all the air was wrung from his chest and he was on the carpet.

The one in the candy-pink dress suit had tackled him—the Marge wrenched him off-balance with her aggressive pursuit, and he couldn't right himself once this new one rammed him. It straddled him and he felt the rifle grind into his back; he'd slung it over his shoulder during his pit stop by the window. He looked into the skel's spiderweb of gray hair. The jutting pins, the dumb thought: How long did it take for its wig to fall off? (Time slowed down in situations like this, to grant dread a bigger stage.) The thing on top of him clawed into his neck with its seven remaining fingers. The other fingers had been bitten off at the knuckle and likely jostled about in the belly of one of its former coworkers. He realized he'd dropped his pistol in the fall.

Surely this one possessed the determination befitting a true denizen of Human Resources, endowed by nature and shaped by nurture into its worthy avatar. The plague's recalibration of its faculties only honed the underlying qualities. Mark Spitz's first office job had involved rattling a mail cart down the corridors of a payroll company located in a Hempstead office park not too far from his house. As a child he'd decided the complex was some sort of clearinghouse for military intelligence, mistaking its impassive façades for clandestine power. The veil was lifted the first day. The other guys in the mail room were his age and when his boss shut the door to his office they got a splendid doofus chorus going. The only downer was the ogre head of Human Resources, who'd been relentless about Mark Spitz's paperwork, downright insidious about his W-this, W-that, the proper credentials. She served the places where human beings were paraphrased into numbers, components of bundled data to be shot out through fiber-optic cable toward meaning.

"Your check can't be processed without complete paperwork." How was he supposed to know where his Social Security card was? His bedroom was a dig. He needed special excavating tools to find socks. "You're not in the system. You might as well not exist." Where was The System now, after the calamity? It had been an invisible fist floating above them for so long and now the fingers were open, disjoined, and everything slipped through, everything escaped. By August he'd scurried back to the service industry, doling out pomegranate martinis on Ladies' Wednesdays. He tried to heave Human Resources off him. The skel's eyes dipped to the soft meat of his face. It went in for a bite.

Like most of the grunts in the sweeper units, he declined to wear his faceplate, despite the regulations, No-No Card, and all the times he'd witnessed that decision turn out poorly. You couldn't hump forty pounds of equipment up a New York City high-rise while fogging up a plastic faceplate. Supply lines were still a broken mess all around, and the sweepers were the lowest priority in everything except when it came to bullets. Everybody had enough bullets, from the Northeast Corridor to Omaha to Zone One, now that Buffalo had Barnes up and running, the former home-makers and chronic asthmatics and assorted old biddies on the assembly lines cranking out ammo day and night. Nowadays, Rosie the Riveter was a former soccer mom who had just opened her own catering business when Last Night came down and her husband and kids were eaten by a parking attendant at the local megamall's discount-appliance emporium.

Priorities: First Buffalo got what they needed, then the military, then civilian population, and finally the sweepers. Which meant Mark Spitz didn't have proper face gear, one of those fancy marine numbers with the lightweight impenetrable wire, proper ventilation, and neck sheathing. He'd seen one sad sack who patrolled in a goalie's mask—an affectation, really, because it was too easy for one of the skels to rip it off. Some of the guys in the other units had taken to drilling air holes into the thick plastic faceplate, and he made a note to try that last trick if he made it out of this mess. Face gear or no, however, you never wanted to get pinned.

First time he saw someone get pinned by a group of them was in the early days, must have been, because he was still trying to get out of his neighborhood. An invisible barrier surrounded his zip code, each opportunity for escape was undermined by his certainty that things were about to go back to normal, that this savage new reality could not hold. He was wending to the strip mall half a mile from his house—civilization's nearest representative consisted of the 24-7 gas-and-cigarette vendor, the famously grim pizza-and-sub place, and a moribund dry cleaner, that reliable exacerbator of stains. Mark Spitz had spent the night up in the arms of an oak, the first of many tree-limb slumber parties to come. It occurred to him that if anyone was equipped for this "new situation," it was Mr. Provenzano and the reputed arsenal he had stashed in the basement of the pizza shop. The basement weapons stash was a sturdy and beloved topic of speculation among mayhem-adoring kids and insinuating grown-ups alike, fed by rumors of mob-induction ceremonies and a robust lore centered around the meat grinder.

Mark Spitz didn't know if the pizza shop was accessible, but it was a better prospect than the silenced lanes of New Grove, the subdivision his parents had moved to thirty years before, their wedding gifts sitting in the foyer when they returned from their honeymoon. He waited for daylight and beat his numb legs and arms to get the blood into them. Then he cut through the clutch backyards, the hardwired shortcuts from his kid days, and crept and scrambled around the half-finished mini-mansion on Claremont trying to get the lay of the street before making a break for the main road. The construction company had lost liquidity the year before and his parents complained about the eyesore as if under contractual obligation. The plastic sheets rippling where there should have been walls, the great mounds of orange dirt that seeped out in defeat after every rain. It was a breeding ground for mosquitoes, his parents fussed. They spread sickness.

The old man came jogging down the asphalt. A gray cardigan flapped over his bare chest, and green plaid pants cut off a comical length above his slippers, which were secured to his feet with black electrical tape. Six of the devils congregated on the lawn of a mock Tudor halfway down the street, and they turned at the sound of him. The old man ran faster, veering to arc around them, but he didn't make it. Dark aviator glasses covered his eyes and he had a wireless rig stuck in his ear, into which he narrated his progress. Was the old man actually talking to someone? The phones were dead, all the stalwart and dependable networks had ceased to be, but maybe the authorities were fixing things out there, Mark Spitz remembered thinking, the government was getting control. Authority laying on hands. Two of them got the old man down and then all of them were on him like ants who received a chemical telegram about a lollipop on the sidewalk. There was no way the old man could get up. It was quick. They each grabbed a limb or convenient point of purchase while he screamed. They began to eat him, and his screaming brought more of them teetering down the street. All over the world this was happening: a group of them hears food at the same time and they twist their bodies in unison, that dumb choreography. A cord of blood zipped up out of their huddle, hanging—that's how he always recalled it, that's what he saw as he ducked down behind the cinder blocks and watched. A length of red string pinned briefly to the air, until the wind knocked it away. They didn't fight over the old man. They each got a piece. Of course there couldn't have been anyone at the other end of the call because the phones never came back on. The old man had been barking into the void.

Let them pin you and you were dead. Let them pin you and there was no way to stop them from ripping off whatever pitiful armor you'd wrapped yourself in, stuck your hopes to. They'd get you. He had wafted through damp summer afternoons at Long Beach, amid the chewy scent of fried clams. Cartoon lobster on the thin plastic bib, the stupefying melody of the predatory ice-cream truck. (Yes, time slowed down to give those competing factions in him room to rumble, the dark and the light.) They'd wrestle Mark Spitz out of his fatigues the way he'd pried meat out of claws, tails, shells. They were a legion of teeth and fingers. He grabbed Human Resources' wispy hair and yanked its head out of its advance toward his nose. He didn't have a free hand to grab his knife, but he pinpointed the place in its skull where he would have stuck it. He looked after his pistol. It lay near his waist. The Marge was on its knees, creeping down his arm to the gap between the mesh sleeve and glove. The light was such that he saw his face reflected in Human Resources' milky eyes, fixed in that mindless void. Then he felt the fourth skel grab his leg and he lost himself.

He had the forbidden thought.

He woke. He bucked Human Resources off his chest and it tumbled onto the Marge. Mark Spitz grabbed his pistol and shot it in the forehead.

The fourth one tried to grit down on his leg and was thwarted by his fatigues. Most of the meat in its face had been chewed away. (He'd seen, in that first week, a Samaritan administer chest compresses to a stricken fellow citizen, lean down to give mouth-to-mouth, and have his nose ripped off.) Thin, wide loops of gold dangled from its earlobes, chiming against each other as it scuttled up his body, and he aimed at a place at the top of its skull and put it down.

Gary said, "I got you." Gary kicked the Marge off him and held its shoulder down with his boot.

Mark Spitz turned his face to avoid the spray, squeezing his lips into a crack. He heard two shots. All four were down.

"Mark Spitz, Mark Spitz," Gary said. "We didn't know you liked the older ladies."

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“It's a book you want to read rather than one you should read…while still providing the chilling, fleshy pleasures of zombies who lurch, pursue, hunger. . . . One of the best books of the year.” —Esquire

"Whitehead writes with economy, texture and punch. . . . A cool, thoughtful and, for all its ludic violence, strangely tender novel, a celebration of modernity and a pre-emptive wake for its demise." —The New York Times Book Review

 “Uniquely affecting. . . . A rich mix of wartime satire and darkly funny social commentary. . . . Whether charged with bleak sadness or bone-dry humor, sentences worth savoring pile up faster than the body count.” —The Los Angeles Times

"A zombie story with brains. . . . [Whitehead is a] certifiably hip writer who can spin gore into macabre poetry.” —The Washington Post

"Zone One is not the work of a serious novelist slumming it with some genre-novel cash-in, but rather a lovely piece of writing...Whitehead picks at our nervousness about order's thin grip, suggesting just how flimsy the societal walls are that make possible our hopes and dreams and overly complicated coffee orders." —Entertainment Weekly
 
"Colson Whitehead's Zone One isn't your typical zombie novel; it trades fright-night fodder for empathy and chilling realism…yielding a haunting portrait of a lonely, desolate, and uncertain city." —Elle
 
"The stylistic exuberance on display would be overwhelming if it weren't so well controlled, shifting weightlessly from M*A*S*H-style battle narrative to a melancholic Blade Runner-like vision of Urban devastation. . . . The smallest of details is marked by originality of language." —The New Statesman
 
“Leave it to the supremely thoughtful and snarkily funny Whitehead to do interesting things with a topic that lately has seated itself in the public’s imagination. . . . Not just a juicy experiment in genre fiction but a brilliantly disguised meditation on a ‘flatlined culture’ in need of its own rejuvenating psychic jolt.” —The Seattle Times
 
“If you’re going to break down and read a zombie novel, make it this one.” —The Wall Street Journal
 
“Stylishly entertaining. . . . [Whitehead’s] sentences are interesting, his plotting brisk, his descriptions lucid, and his asides clever.” —The Plain Dealer
 
“In precise, elegant prose [Whitehead] deliberately layers the ever more disturbing elements of the story, one upon the other, allowing the reader to discover the horror in the same fragmentary manner we imagine frantic survivors might. . . . Resembles Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. . . . An intense meditation on the way we cope with disaster and the stubborn, often inexplicable, persistence of the human will to survive.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
 “A sharp commentary on the rat race of contemporary life. . . . Zone One lifts all the gore and gunfire and oozy bits one might expect from the genre. But this is Whitehead, so there’s also popular culture to critique and parallels to draw between zombies and contemporary society.” —The Houston Chronicle
 
[Whitehead] takes the genre of horror fiction, mines both its sense of humor and self-seriousness, and emerges with a brilliant allegory of New York living.” —New York Observer
 
"Highbrow novelist Colson Whitehead plunges into the unstoppable zombie genre in this subtle meditation on loss and love in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, which has become the city that never dies." —USA Today

"For-real literary—gory, lyrical, human, precise." —GQ

"A satirist so playful that you often don't even feel his scalpel, Whitehead toys with the shards of contemporary culture with an infectious glee. Here he upends the tropes of the zombie story in the canyons of lower Manhattan. Horror has rarely been so unsettling, and never so grimly funny." —The Daily Beast

Customer Reviews

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Zone One 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 120 reviews.
jrlabwalker More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very long winded and uninspired. I understand the need for background material but it seems to me the author got lost in detailing everything he saw as a remembrance of things past. I read fiction to escape and have experiences for the thrill of it, there was little escapism. The cerebral prose presented here seems to be more about the author being verbose and intellectual pursuits. I couldn't wait to get to the end of this book so I could read something else.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like zombies and I like literatire, so why didnt I like this book?? Too slow, no real plot, flat characters and a somewhat pretentious writing style. Colson can write absolutely beautiful passages but the beauty gets bogged down and overdone. Reminds me a little bit of Tim Gunn telling Project Runway contestants to "edit, edit, edit" their work. Sadly even editing his excess wording wouldnt have been able to save this novel.. I'm giving up after reading the first third.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You can tell the author is a good writer, but the story kind of meanders nowhere There are awesome passages that lead to nothing I'd buy it on nook for four bucks but NOT 12. Disappointing, it could have been awesome.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am only on page 34, but just cannot find the energy to go any further. The author drones on and on in this wandering stream of conscience prose that doesn't seem to ever end or even push you forward. Then it is like he snaps out of it and writes a couple of paragraphs of plot, but quickly falls back into poinless ramblings. I sure wish I had read these other warning reviews before spending money. Lesson learned!
LeHeretic More than 1 year ago
I am usually open to nearly any work of fiction. However, I could not get past the forced over-complication of this book. The author obviously made every attempt to prove that he not only owns a thesaurus, but also knows how to use it. Good luck trying to read this self-righteous drivel.  
VZDan More than 1 year ago
The writing style is an easy read, unfortunately the story isn't. I normally finish every book I start and I have trudged through some bad books, but the plot is so far completely fuzzy. There is no real fade in and out of flashbacks, the story is somewhat uninspired and painstakingly slow. If you are just interested in a study of of humanities thoughts during an epidemic then this is the book for you. If you are looking for an engrossing edge of your seat page turner then look somewhere else.
EHendu More than 1 year ago
While the pacing of the book is a bit drawn out at times it serves to make the actual zombie encounters that much more jarring and intense. Anyone looking for a "hack and slash", constant gore fest should look elsewhere. Otherwise, the genre can only be improved with stories such as Zone One.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purchased Zone One after an interview with the author on NPR and was sadly disappointed. It was incredibly descriptive creating a grim image appropriate for the story but I felt like the author jumped around too much in the story without providing transitions. I was glad when it was over. However, the last 30 pages were nail-biting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this was an extremely difficult book to read. the author constantly leaves the plotline to discuss tangential issues and character traits abouut the lead. About 100 pages in or so I finally had to stop reading it because it was just going nowhere. Nearly zero zombie action - so if you are fan of this genre - this book will disappoint you.
Wordslave77 More than 1 year ago
Is Zone One Colson Whitehead's highly literate, stylistic take on the zombie genre? Well, yes. But Zone One is also a study on the memories, experiences, things, and culture that hold us together, and a frightening evaluation of what happens when it all falls apart. Whitehead's everyman protagonist tries to survive in a world threatened by "the dead" and to go forward with hope in the new society's Reconstruction. Yet he's constantly losing himself in the past, to what once was, to the world everyone lost on "Last Night." Whitehead's first novel The Intuitionist is one of my favorites because of its writing style. Happy to say I was not disappointed with Zone One!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Slogging through this book was almost painful. Like others commented before, the writer comes off as snobbish and boring. By the end of the book I was so over the fact that the main character was "exceptionally average"... mostly because I didn't care about any single character to begin with. Terrible read.
lowellbaseball More than 1 year ago
I kind of feel bad for the author. The book feels like he was attempting to write a serious piece. Unfortunately, when your subject matter is zombies, any true literary attempt comes across as ironic. I think the author is quite capable of writing a great work--he just forgot that zombies are supposed to be fun fluff.
noveltea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yes: a literary novel about zombies. For the first chunk of the book, it seems a bit too literary, with the rare action scene interrupted by flashbacks and soul-searching digressions. (And if our hero is so "mediocre," why does his story require complicated prose and ten-dollar words?) But I loved the world-building (well, world-destroying and world-rebuilding) and sly humor, and there are some wonderful characters. So for a while I appreciated the story as literary entertainment. But as I got deeper in, it made me think and feel--and fear--more. And by the end, this novel forced me to look at the world, and think about the future. Scary stuff, for real.
kherrington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had really high hopes for this book. I think Whitehead is a great literary stylist, and I loved his first novel, The Intuitionist. However, I did not love Zone One. I just thought it was okay. I'm a literary fiction reader, but I think I would've enjoyed this book if this book more if hit had more zombie-ness and less literary-ness. I was surprised by how depressing I found this book. I've read lots of post-apocalyptic novels, but I never found one as depressing as Zone One. I really felt like he was describing a world that already exists: most of us are infected with some plague and are already walking dead. In addition, the new world order isn't new or even changed from before the plague. Now, it just has a theme song and a logo--I could probably write a whole paper positing what Whitehead is saying about our current need for branding of everything (I already find depressing and don't need a novel to reinforce that feeling). On a positive note, I did enjoy the ending of the book. I won't give any spoilers here, but I liked Mark Spitz's (the main character) final act. Speaking of Mark Spitz, I did like his whole attitude of embracing his mediocrity and his theory of how that helped him survive, much food for thought there. If you like great writing, you might enjoy reading this book, and if you like zombie novels, you might enjoy reading this book, but I don't think either audience will find it completely satisfying.
jasonpettus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)As regular readers know, there's a special quirk to CCLaP's 10-point rating system that maybe a lot of other places don't have; that no matter how good a genre book like science-fiction or crime thriller actually is, in terms of sheer quality, it's not allowed to score in the 9s or above unless it somehow transcends its genre and becomes of interest to a general audience, a rule which I believe makes CCLaP's ratings far more accurate when it comes to any particular random person trying to decide whether or not to pick up any particular random title. So for a genre novel to score a perfect 10 here, as has happened only two or three times in the five years and 700-odd reviews that have been published at CCLaP, means something special indeed -- that it's not only exquisitely done, not only one of the best books ever published in that genre, but is a title that should literally be forced on people who normally hate that genre, the proverbial "one [fill in the blank] book you should read if you only read one [fill in the blank] book a year." And ladies and gentlemen, I have found that next rare genre book to score a perfect 10, ironically by complete accident on the "New Releases" shelf at my neighborhood library; it's called Zone One by Colson Whitehead, and could very well be the very best post-apocalyptic novel since Cormac McCarthy's The Road six years ago.And indeed, like McCarthy, Whitehead is not a genre veteran but actually an academically celebrated mainstream author, a MacArthur "genius grant" recipient whose most famous novel Sag Harbor (an autobiographical coming-of-age tale about wealthy blacks in 1980s Long Island) is talked about online by its fans in the hushed, revered tones of the religiously faithful. And like McCarthy, this first foray into genre actioners by Whitehead is actually a highly metaphorical tale as well; for by setting it a full ten years after the outbreak of a plague that turned 99 percent of the population into flesh-eating zombies, and by concentrating the story on the efforts to reclaim lower Manhattan as a source of national pride to a deeply shaken population, Whitehead is clearly echoing the real events of 9/11 and the dark chaos of the resulting Bush Era, not from the perspective of those actual years like so much "Bushist" literature in the early 2000s did, but rather from our current Obamian recovery times, a period here in the 2010s when it seems that we are perpetually on the cusp of America devolving into permanent ruin, offset by glimmers of hope and a can-do attitude but by no means with any guarantee yet that we won't be sliding straight into the abyss around every next corner.And in fact, this is the main issue that makes Whitehead's book so brilliant in the first place, and so profoundly more original and inventive than almost any other zombie story that's ever been written; because by setting the story in a time and place where the majority of the most dangerous "skels" have now all been killed, the novel instead explores the complex ways that the survivors have learned how to cope and even think of the events that transpired a decade previous, and of all the complicated factors that would actually go into rebuilding the country back into a state of normalcy, the novel's first page being where most zombie stories usually end. It's here where Whitehead really shines, offering up literally dozens of little tidbits that will make you think as you're reading, "Oh, that's a smart touch; oh, and that's a smart touch too" -- just for one great example, how the recovery process (being directed from the new national capital in Buffalo, New York) is mostly being funded by corporate interests, with various surviving vice presidents and CEOs giving formal permission as a PR s
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Zombies have massed behind the last remaining barrier I erected of ¿subjects about which I do not want to read.¿ The other barriers have toppled over recent years, largely because of the influence of bloggers, but I have, for the most part, held out against zombies. However, when Glen Duncan, author of The Last Werewolf, wrote in "The New York Times Book Review" that this book was worth reading, I gave in to the pressure and let the zombies over the wall. This is what the uninfected do not want to happen in Zone One, a walled off portion of New York City that has been swept free of post-apocalyptic plague-infected flesh-eaters, and which serves as a base for the eventual restoration of Manhattan. ¿Mark Spitz¿ is the nickname of the protagonist, a civilian zombie "sweeper" who works for the military at Fort Wonton in Chinatown, helping to clear out ¿skels¿ (short for skeletons, which is what they call the walking dead) in an increasingly widened area. The goal, according to the provisional government in Buffalo, is to show the world that New York could once again be a great city: American Phoenix Rising, as the slogan said: if America can bring back New York City from the dead, it can do anything.Whitehead doesn¿t focus on the zombies much at all, except to comment, in various ways, how much the zombies resemble the mindless, sometimes blood-sucking masses of people before they were so overtly flesh-eating. But Whitehead is more interested in the living than the dead: he wants to look at those who are uninfected, and see how they cope, and what kind of people the plague exposes them to be. He wants to see what people would miss in a world in which the only thing left is survival strategies. He asks you to consider what you would miss, and how you would adjust to the constant fear and loss and loneliness. He wants you to think about how long it would take you to crack, or if you could live on the drug of hope, in spite of everything that tells you hope is chimeric.Evaluation: Whitehead¿s writing is lovely in parts, but nothing much happens, which was my criticism of his previous book Sag Harbor (which I did not finish). I really felt that Duncan¿s use of the werewolf as a metaphor in The Last Werewolf was a much more skillful foray of the literary into the world of "genre fiction," and in spite of a less than happy ending, it was much less depressing than this book. Like the air in New York City, always bleak in this book, so is the tone. In spite of having thought-provoking passages and an interesting depiction of a world overrun by zombies, this book was too much of a downer for me.
bertilak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I have read by Colson Whitehead. I am bored by vampire and zombie books, but, after hearing Whitehead's reading at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Halloween, 2011, I had to read it.The verdict: Excellent! His prose style is lively, inventive, and witty, which is the exact opposite of the not-yet-dead characters in the book. The living characters are so deadened by Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder that they do not differ much from the zombies, except for not having a taste for human sushi. The predominant emotion is nostalgia for lost times and cool toys: nobody has smartphones any more, or photos in the cloud or any of that. Secondarily, there is the lack of friends or family who all got devoured. But the toys and luxury items seem to be what is most missed.Behind the zombie story there is a devastating debunking of consumer culture with all its distractions, but this is done in an understated way, not with hostility and overt contempt like Miller's The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.Indeed the whole book is understated, echoing the deadness of the living. Many horrific events are recounted, but they do not horrify because they are presented flatly, without shriek words such as the standard Lovecraft vocabulary.I will be reading more books by Whitehead soon.
jorgearanda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's the unraveling of our civilization, and as it tries to rise again, it repeats the same bullshit, inane, and soul-less patterns that it used to be so fond of. As in every good zombie story, the monster here is ourselves, the recesses of our humanity, and Whitehead's lyrical prose puts a mirror to it like no one else.
Aerrin99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was enticed by this book because it claimed to be a 'literary zombie novel' with interesting things to say about what the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse might be like to a 'normal joe'. Apparently 'literary' means 'boring' and 'no plot' and 'no action' and 'very little character'. It was a chore to read this book. I never thought I'd say that about a zombie novel. There are plenty of other great zombie books with interesting and surprising things to say about humanity. Try those instead - Reapers are the Angels, Feed, World War Z, The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Leave this one alone.
JackieBlem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have, by design and general constitution, largely avoided the whole zombie craze. It's just not my thing. But when a publisher's rep came cloyingly into my office with the latest Colson Whitehead (of "Sag Harbor" fame, among other novels), I happily snapped it up. Then, to my earth shaking surprise, he says, "It's about zombies." Whitehead is known for his high literate style and intense content, something that I though could never be paired with flesh dripping undead beings looking for their next meal. But he does it, and he does it well. I will fully admit that I was bewildered for the first 70 or so pages, because this book starts out smack dab in the middle of the battle of the infected (a plague creates ravenous zombies of it's sufferers) and the (relatively) healthy. The armed forces have done a great deal of the initial extermination, but now there are organized citizen troops looking for the "skels" in a second wave through part of Manhattan--Zone One. Mark Spitz (a nickname, but the only name he's got any more) is the narrating character, and he's learned to be very good with a gun. For the first third of the book, we follow him through his gruesome days, but eventually we start to get the back story of his life and of the massive changes (or ARE they?) to the government and the surviving people--now called "American Phoenixes" in the massive marketing/rebranding of survival created by a brilliant team of spin doctors cached away by what is left of the government (now headquartered in Buffalo). As the book continues, more and more of the whole picture come into place, and Whitehead's critique of today's world, the one I'm writing you from, becomes clearer and sharply pointed. His writing is mesmerizing in its ability to set you down firmly in this horrifying new reality, making reading this book a very visceral experience. I won't lie, his command of the English language sent me to the dictionary more times than I am truly willing to admit to find out what a sentence meant, but it was worth it each time. This man tells a story like no other, and I am deeply, deeply impressed. The blurb on my reader's copy says "dazzling and devastating"--I couldn't agree more.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It¿s time to admit that I like zombiesFor the past year or so, I¿ve been reading and reviewing all of these zombie novels with the caveat that ¿I¿m not a zombie fan.¿ While it¿s true that I¿ve never seen any of the classic films, I think it¿s time to admit that I AM a zombie fan. (But please don¿t chip away at my vampire denial.) I¿ve read take after take on the end of the world, and each one is compelling in its own way. There¿s something elemental in the horror of an end by zombies. Do I believe this could ever happen? Absolutely not. But in the hands of a talented writer, anything is believable. All is believable. Perhaps I am too willing with my suspension of disbelief, but this is the stuff of nightmares.Much has been made of this ¿literary¿ foray into the horror genre. In addition to being a zombie fan, I am also a fan of literary fiction, and I love that serious writers are now being allowed to practice their craft on a broader range of genres and are exploring plot-driven stories in addition to character-driven fiction. This is a win/win trend for both readers and writers. Ironically, reading this beautifully-written exploration of the apocalypse made me reflect less on how good IT was, but more on how good A LOT of the zombie novels I¿ve been reading have been. (Sophie Littlefield¿s Aftertime Trilogy in particular comes to mind.) There¿s just something deeply touching in these fights for survival, and I think a lot of apocalyptic writers are really plugging into something powerful and profound.Certainly I count Colson Whitehead among their number. Whitehead¿s tale centers on a character identified only by his nickname, Mark Spitz. Want to know why he¿s called that? Read the book. As the novel opens, the worst has passed. The zombie plague has come, many have died, and society is taking its first baby steps towards rebuilding. Mark Spitz¿s tale is told in a non-linear fashion, as he attempts to move forward despite suffering PASD (because the world has moved beyond ¿post-traumatic¿ to ¿post-apocalyptic¿ stress disorders). As he observes the new world around him and performs his duty of putting down zombie stragglers in a reclaimed lower Manhattan, he reflects on what he¿s witnessed, who he¿s left behind, and on what he¿s survived while doing his ¿cockroach impression.¿ Glancing over the reader reviews on Amazon before I sat down to type this, I have to admit that I¿m surprised by the harsh criticism that many have brought against the novel. Some had issues with the non-linear nature of the story-telling, some felt it didn¿t move fast enough, some thought the author was ¿showing off¿ or using ¿absurdly big words,¿ some seem to simply hate New York. There were many complaints about the protagonist, and I¿ll admit that he¿s not a dynamic character. He¿s a traumatized everyman chronicling a dying world. Don¿t go into this expecting an upper. There are more critical reviews than complimentary, and many of them are thoughtful and articulate. All I can tell you is that I disagree with these criticisms. I read this book in two days, and despite the depressing story told, I didn¿t want to put it down. I was very invested in the fates of the primary and secondary characters. Whitehead¿s prose was a pleasure to read without being overly ornate or intrusive in any way. And one last thing¿this is one of those rare novels where the author had me hanging on his words until the very last page. And those final words were just so¿ perfect. They gave me chills. I read them over several times. The end of this novel was amazing, and I simply don¿t know how it could fail to impress. But that¿s opinions for you. If you¿re prepared to read a heavy, disturbing, and, yes, horrific tale, I¿d highly recommend this novel. But you might want to survey some other opinions of this polarizing book before you take my word on it.
Laura400 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not familiar with zombie books or movies. But I am a big Colson Whitehead fan. Unfortunately, I think this book might disappoint readers in both camps.Here's a plot summary: The novel is set some time after a worldwide "plague" turned victims into zombies, who then killed most of the population, starting with those closest to them. The few lone survivors have fled and survived alone or in very small temporary groups. Now a nascent government in Buffalo is setting up camps for survivors and has sent teams to clear out part of Manhattan--dubbed Zone One--for resettlement. The book's hero, nicknamed Mark Spitz, is on one of those teams.On the plus side, the book displays Whitehead's customary inventiveness and creativity. As always, I love the premise. Unfortunately, the novel plods a bit. It doesn't really get moving until the very end, when the zombies finally break through the barriers of Zone One and into the pages of the book. Ironically, what it's missing as a book is the verve of zombie or other genre movies--pacing, plot, action, a sense of danger.Instead, much of the book is an exploration of personal loneliness and privileged urban anomie. That's Whitehead territory, and his characteristic humor and intelligence are evident as always, but he doesn't hit the marks this time. It's like hanging out with a friend in a prolonged post-divorced funk; you are sympathetic, but you also want him to move on eventually. Similarly, the book feels almost shut in. Shut in, in its own sadness and paralysis, like the survivors holed up in random buildings, trying to wait out the zombies by showing no signs of life so the zombies pass by without attacking. It turns out to need a zombie attack.
boppie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a first for me, and mayne the entore genre - a literary zombie novel? I enjoyed it, of course, because the plot was very good, but I could have used some more gore ;) I'm just bloodthirsty that way. Zombies were a metaphor for the soullessness of society, for the rote nature of employment in the future, etc etc etc - and how futile hope for said future is. I'm with you, Colson - just give things proper names, please - we all know you're talking about Starbucks, for example.
readaholic12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very articulate zombie novel, fast paced, poignant, cynical and filled with seething social commentary. I loved this book and the characters and wanted to know more of everything.Very well done, one of the best of the genre, in my opinion.
msf59 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mark Spitz is part of a three-man sweeper team, that is combing lower Manhattan, looking and destroying any stray zombies, that may have escaped the Marines. Yes, we are back among the ubiquitous undead. There is no avoiding these shuffling heaps of decomposition. Here, there are two types of zombies: the regular flesh-munchers, called ¿skels¿ and then there¿s the harmless ¿stragglers¿, who seem to be more concerned with the routines of their past lives, like housecleaning or office filing.What elevates this book, from the decaying hordes, is that this author is a very sharp writer and his prose crackles.¿Normal was the unbroken idyll of life before. The present was a series of intervals differentiated from each other only by the degree of dread they contained.¿The narrative is quiet and ponderous. If you are expecting an action-packed thriller, look elsewhere, but if you enjoy smart writing and some insightful social commentary, give this one a shot, even if you are not a zombie-hugger. Another bonus: it clocks in at just over 250 pages. Sweet!