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The Zero: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – August 7, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A deliriously mordant political satire, Walter's follow-up to 2005's critically acclaimed Citizen Vince begins moments after New York City cop Brian Remy shoots himself in the head. He isn't seriously wounded, and he can't remember doing it. It's less than a week after 9/11, and Brian serves as an official guide for celebrities who want a tour of "The Zero." With stitches still in his scalp, Brian is tapped for a job with the Documentation Department, a shadowy subagency of the Office of Liberty and Recovery, which is charged with scrutinizing every confetti scrap of paper blown across the city when the towers fell. As he learns the truth about his new employer's mission (think: recent NSA-related headlines) and becomes enmeshed in a sinister government plot, he finds an unseemly benefactor in "The Boss," the unnamed mayor who cashes in on his sudden national prominence. Meanwhile, Brian's cop and firemen colleagues shill for "First Responder" cereal, his rebellious teenage son acts as if Brian died in the attack and the president provides comic background sound bites ("draw your strength from the collective courage and resilientness"). Walter's Helleresque take on a traumatic time may be too much too soon for some, but he carries off his dark and hilarious narrative with a grandly grotesque imagination. 100,000announced first printing; 12-city author tour.(Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Numerous thrillers have drawn on 9/11, but most have used those all-too-horrific events only as a frame. Walter digs deeper. This discombobulating but remarkably imaginative novel never names bin Laden or even the date, but we know where we are. Bits of paper from the explosions continue to rain down from the sky, and rescue workers continue to look for bodies at Ground Zero (or, the Zero, as the cops and firefighters who were there refer to it). One of those cops, Brian Remy, opens the novel by shooting himself in the head. But, minutes later, he can't remember doing it. Remy suffers from what he calls "gaps"--memory lapses in which he has no idea why he is doing what he's doing. These gaps are the main narrative device in the novel, and they take some getting used to, as the reader is every bit as affected by the blackouts as Remy. Gradually, both character and reader begin to piece things together: Remy has been hired by the "Boss" to lead a secret "documentation recovery" effort aimed at finding a link between the terrorists and a woman working in one of the towers. But to what end? Even in his lucid moments, Remy doesn't understand his assignment, which seems to have something to do with "applying models of randomness to the patterns in paper burns." There is plenty of stinging political satire here, but beyond that, Walter has taken the terrorist thriller into new territory, mixing the surreal cityscape of Blade Runner with a touch of Kafka and coming up with what may be the perfect metaphor for the way we experience today's world. Like Remy, we suffer from gaps whenever we watch the news or try to make sense of international affairs: randomness reigns. This isn't a perfect novel, but it takes a game shot at re-creating the emotional reality of the post-9/11 world. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (August 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006118943X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061189432
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #474,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jess Walter is the author of six novels, most recently the New York Times bestseller Beautiful Ruins (2012). He was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for The Zero and winner of the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel for Citizen Vince. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, Playboy and other publications. He lives in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Let me say first that this novel does not make sense in the way your average novel will. It is probably not as patriotic as anything else you've read that retells the story of 9/11. Or as sympathetic. But it is definitely the most compassionate. THE ZERO tells the story of Brian Remy, a cop who was there when it all happened - and in the subsequent months sees his life begin to unravel as he suffers gaps in his waking consciousness (in much the same way as the main character in the film, MEMENTO). Remy's waking reality is the world gone surreal.

Remy can't figure out what's happening to him, and it's nearly impossible to what's real and what's not. Every time things he begins to understand what's going on, he blacks out; and so does the reader. This leads to what is possibly the most introspective novel written in the past ten years. THE ZERO will knock you off your feet. Walter's writing (in the tradition of Kafka) is precise, beautiful, destructive, and even mesmerizing. If this novel doesn't make it into the canon of great American literature, it'll be a crying shame.
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Format: Hardcover
First of all, let me emphasize that I believe Jess Walter is one of the brightest lights in fiction today. He is a remarkably talented writer, and deserves mainstream success. I thoroughly enjoyed CITIZEN VINCE, his Edgar-winning novel from last year.

THE ZERO: A NOVEL, however, is nowhere near as good as CITIZEN VINCE.

Why not? Let me list the reasons:

(1) THE ZERO has no coherent plot. Brian Remy is a heroic 9/11 cop who suffers frequent "gaps" in his memory after the terrorist attack. As a result, he drifts through the entire story of this novel without really understandng why he is doing what he's doing. This leads to a large number of disjointed scenes with almost no context provided. As a result, this novel has no narrative thread, which makes for a rather disorienting (and ultimately tedious) read. Put bluntly, this novel was very hard for me to finish.

(2) THE ZERO has no likable central character. Who is Remy? What is he doing? What are his motivations? Why is he torturing terror suspects and cheating on his girlfriend? The reader never knows, because Remy himself does not know, due to his frequent memory loss. As a result, the central character of this novel is remarkably vacuous and impossible to identify with. This book has a hollow center.

(3) THE ZERO has cartoonish supporting characters. Pretty much all the supporting characters in this novel are exaggerated stereotypes. We have embarssingly macho, stupid police characters. We have extremely cynical politicians and greedy businessmen. We have Remy's pseudo-intellectual son, who pretends that Remy died at 9/11. None of these characters is even remotely believable. All of the dialogue is stilted and unrealistic.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A perfect 10. The author takes the reader on a gritty, black edged, rocket fueled ride across the abyss of Ground Zero. And what a ride it is! The audacity of writing a novel loaded with satire and black humor on the outfall of a police officer's dealing with post WTC trauma and the politics of cleanup culminating with the sharp irony of survivorship. And it is just not the WTC site that is being "cleaned up". With a daring writing style and sharp characters that enhance a chaos of events, the author succeeds in creating a brute and edgy novel that rivals Catch 22's theater of the absurd.
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Format: Paperback
I'm not sure I would've read this if it had been described to me as a 9/11 novel, as I'm a bit 9/11'd-out. I bought it because I'm reading my way through all the books of Jess Walter, surely one of the best young writers today. Although this is nominally a book about 9/11, and harrowingly captures the chaos and insanity of the days, weeks, and months following the attack, it's more a book about the chaos and insanity of modern life, where terrorism morphs into entertainment--reality TV and mud-pit monster trucks,--and consumer products (First Responder cereal?!). Like the unlikely hero of this book, whose grip on reality slips in and out of his grasp, we're all trapped in some way in the Zero, characters in a script we're not sure is ours, at jobs we may not fully understand (did Remy, the hero, help start the Department of Documentation, tasked with literally piecing together the fragments of paper that fell from the Towers that day?) and people we don't always know or can't trust. The fragmented reality of Remy's post-9/11 life, which at one point is described as "textbook PTSD: visions, delusions, dissociative episodes," and maybe even "a mid-life crisis." What makes The Zero so brilliant is that it's a book about life today, specifically modern life in urban America, and merits savoring not only for the insights (and humor) it offers here, but for the genius of Walter's writing, with, in this book, its echoes of Kafka, Heller, and Vonnegut.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Brian Remy is a New York City cop. He was on the scene when the towers collapsed on 9/11, narrowly escaping himself (even though his son is telling people he died). And Remy has just shot himself in the head -- but he can't remember whether he did it on purpose, or accidentally. Indeed, he can't remember much of anything -- he sort of "wakes up" between gaps in his memory and has to piece together what he's been up to. Conscious Remy is good, "unconscious," off-the-page Remy is bad.

So the story revolves around the fact that he's in a constant struggle to figure out what he's up to -- helping a government agency infiltrate a terrorist cell? tracking down a woman who may or may not have died in the attacks? -- and we're as much in the dark as Good Remyis. "...and Remy found that he was smiling, not exactly remembering, but wanting to, and thinking there's not much difference, that the best memories might be those you don't remember."

Much, much more than just a study of a fascinating character, though, Jess Walter's novel The Zero looks at the absurdity of the culture and paranoia in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and how frequently the focus was removed from the victims and their families -- for selfish gain, for politics, or for any other reason. Remy's affable partner Paul explains, even though he knows he shouldn't mention it, how awesome it is that 9/11 happened because he is treated as a hero and gets to show celebrities around Ground Zero. Paul even gets to appear on a box of cereal -- "My agent says I was lucky to get the marshmallows," he tells Remy.

Remy and his struggle with his fractured memory are really a symbol of the underlying post-9/11 fractured culture (even though 9/11 appeared on the surface to be a unifying event).
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