- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (July 10, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780307455178
- ISBN-13: 978-0307455178
- ASIN: 0307455173
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (440 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Zone One Paperback – July 10, 2012
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Guest Reviewer: Justin Cronin on Zone One by Colson Whitehead
In a nutshell: Zone One is a story of three days in the life of one Mark Spitz and his squad of three “sweepers” moving through the eponymous Zone One of lower Manhattan, a walled-off enclave scheduled for resettlement in the aftermath of a zombie plague. The great masses of the undead, known as “skels” for their skeleton-like appearance, have been violently dispatched by a Marine detachment. It falls to Spitz and his fellows to take care of the handful that remain, as well as a second-tier of the infected known as “stragglers”: zombies who have bypassed the cannibalistic urges of their more lethal fellows in favor of a hollow-eyed, eerily nostalgic repetition of some mundane act. Surfing a vanished web. Switching the channels of a dead remote. Filling helium balloons in a ransacked party supply store. Running a photocopy machine, presumably for all eternity.
These trapped souls, like much in Whitehead’s novel, evoke a pure pathos. But Whitehead’s tale is as much a chronicle of the living as the dead. Survivorship is his true subject, and with its lower-Manhattan setting, Zone One’s suggestive nod to a post-9/11 New York is no accident. Part of the novel’s power flows from the reader’s uncomfortable sense that Whitehead’s apocalypse, for all its strangeness, also feels strangely familiar.
But what truly sets Zone One apart from the literary and filmic zombie hordes is the sheer quality of the writing. Whitehead’s language zings and soars. The zombie genre is an intrinsically playful blend of horror and slapstick, but Whitehead takes this maxim to vertiginous new heights, producing a shockingly full-throttle immediacy in the process. The distance between the real world of the reader and the imagined world of Whitehead’s skel-infested New York, in all its aching pity and graveyard comedy, collapses to nothing. In these pages, the world of the undead is brought vibrantly to life. Friends, you are there.
Readers of Whitehead’s previous novels may be surprised to find him traveling the halls of zombie horror. They shouldn’t. For a long time Whitehead has strutted his stuff as one of our smartest young writers, and Zone One is every inch the book he was born to write, a pop-culture thriller of the first order. It will make you think. It will make you want to bar the door and weapon up. It will make you miss the obliterated, lovely world for the duration of its reading, and for some time after. It’s that kind of book: a zombie novel with brains.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“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
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Top Customer Reviews
In Whitehead's post-apocalyptic world, survival is re-branded by teams of overseers who recognized the importance of good marketing. Those who are still alive aren't called survivors, they're called "the American Phoenix." The camps and safe zones have names like "Babbling Brooks" and "Happy Acres" that make them sound more like suburban condominiums.
Mark Spitz, the book's protagonist, is a mediocre man who thrives in this new world where he notes that "intellect and ingenuity and talent [are] as equally meaningless as stubbornness, cowardice, and stupidity." Here he has taken on the job of a "sweeper," tasked with clearing the streets of Manhattan of zombies.
Even Whitehead's zombies are interesting. There are two different categories: the skels are your typical modern zombies, making up 99% of the infected. But then there's the remaining 1%, dubbed the stragglers, who become frozen in place repeating a mundane task until they're put out of their misery.
There are so many cool ideas here, but unfortunately cool ideas don't make for a compelling story. As much as I appreciated the cleverness of Whitehead's post-apocalyptic world, I felt bored for the majority of this book. Not a lot happens. The tension is minimal. The prose is verbose.
Zone One would have made an excellent short story. Whitehead is great writer with an enviable imagination. But that wasn't enough to carry this full-length novel.
The novel begins where so many zombie novels end… after the zombie pandemic has largely run its course, and surviving humans are now on the offensive, trying to simultaneously eradicate the remaining zombies and rebuild society. The protagonist, know only by the nickname Mark Spitz due to an anecdote I won't spoil here, is very much a self-proclaimed master of mediocrity. Before the zombie plague, he excelled at simply getting by in life… always square in the middle, always doing the bare minimum. But in new the post-plague world order, he finds that the qualities of merely getting by are the best one can have in this not-so-brave new world. Employed as a "sweeper"-- a somewhat-militarized combatant tasked with sweeping lower Manhattan of the remaining zombies with well-placed head shots--Mark serves as the novel's chronicler of the outbreak and the attempt to rebuild America (now called the American Phoenix) from the ashes of a near apocalypse.
But Whitehead has larger targets than the zombies, as he deftly critiques the structural inequalities, rampant conspicuous consumption,crises of identity, and corporate hegemony of the 21st century U.S. In many ways, this novel is more similar to political horror novels like 1984, Brave New World, Beloved, and even Heart of Darkness than it is to mainstream zombie fiction. His writing is elegant, poetic… line after line of prose that leaps from the page with thick descriptions of the politics of everyday life. It's not an easy read, as the narrative twists and turns, looping back on itself through flashbacks and oral histories of Last Night (as the onset of the plague is described). If you are a fan of highly literate horror fiction… or just highly literate writing in general… then this is a novel not to be missed.
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