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Zone One: A Novel Hardcover – October 18, 2011
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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.
PRAISE FOR ZONE ONE:
"THE BEST BOOK OF THE FALL...provides the chilling, fleshy pleasures of zombies who lurch, pursue, hunger...while brilliantly reformulating an old-hat genre."
“If you’re going to break down and read a zombie novel, make it this one.”
--The Wall Street Journal
“[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
"A zombie story with brains...Readers who wouldn't ordinarily creep into a novel festooned with putrid flesh might be lured by this certifiably hip writer who can spine gore into macabre poetry...Everything comes to life in this perfectly paced, horrific, 40-page finale shot through with grim comedy and desolate wisdom about the modern age in all its poisonous, contaminating rage. It's a remarkable episode, but elevated by the power of Whitehead's prose to the level of those other ash-covered nightmares imagined by T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cormac MacCarthy.
--Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Whitehead writes with a sharp, descriptive power, reeling off one pithy observation after the next in a way that invests this post-apocalyptic world with a surprisingly tactile presence.”
--The Associated Press
“Whitehead, himself a New Yorker, writes about Spitz’s travails in the brooding, vertical metropolis with a dark poetry, which makes this harrowing tale 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
"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."
"For-real literary -- gory, lyrical, human, precise."
"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
"Whitehead's uncommonly assured style and his observational gifts make the book a pleasure to read."
"Whitehead writes with economy, texture and punch. He has a talent for sardonic aphorism and an ear for phonetic intrigue...[Zone One] is a cool, thoughtful and, for all its ludic violence, strangely tender novel, a celebration of modernity and a pre-emptive wake for its demise."
--Glen Duncan, for The New York Times Book Review
“As much as Whitehead was inspired by and occasionally references the ‘70s disaster movies that share DNA with Zone One, it’s his remarkable turns of phrase that lift the story above the gory rublle of a midday matinee. Whether charged with bleak sadness or bone-dry humor, sentences worth savoring pile up faster than the body count.”
--Los Angeles Times
“Zone One takes in all the classic tropes of the zombie novel and blends them to create a novel both melancholy and feverishly exciting, one that is as much about our past and our present as any possible future.”
“Whitehead writes in cinematic images, with a lucid command of language, a knack for comic invention and a blithe freedom.”
--The Kansas City Star
“Zone One is an off-kilter love letter to a post-apocalypse Manhattan. It’s loaded with gallows survivor humor and absolutely stunning descriptions.”
“Cinematic in scope and nimble in its use of hard-core gore, [Zone One] is an absorbing read, crammed with thoughtful snapshots of the world the survivors have left behind…a sharp commentary on the rat race of contemporary life.”
"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."
“A great read that’s snarky, scary, and profound.”--Parade
"Zone One is a smart, strange, engrossing novel about the end of metaphors and the way that, as Mark Spitz knows all to well, no barrier can hold forever against the armies of death."
“The kind of smart, funny, pop culture-filled tale that would make George Romero proud…[Whitehead] succeeds brilliantly with a fresh take on survival, grief, 9/11, AIDS, global warming, nuclear holocaust, Katrina, Abu Ghraib, Pol Pot’s Year Zero, Missouri tornadoes, and the many other disasters both natural and not that keep a stranglehold on our fears.”
-- Publishers Weekly, starred review
"This diabolically smart, covertly sensitive, ruminative, and witty zombie nightmare prods us to think about how we dehumanize others, how society tramples and consumes individuals, how flimsy our notions of law and order are, and how easily deluded and profoundly vulnerable humankind is. A deft, wily, and unnerving blend of pulse-elevating action and sniper-precise satire."
--Booklist, starred review
"[Whitehead] sinks his teeth into a popular format and emerges with a literary feast, producing his most compulsively readable work to date...Whitehead transforms the zombie novel into an allegory of contemporary Manhattan (and, by extension, America)."
--Kirkus, starred review
"[Zone One] achieves a kind of miracle of tone. A fragile hope permeates these pages, one so painful and tender, it's heartbreaking...Colson Whitehead is in fresh, appealing and often very fine voice."
"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
"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. Pretty scary."
“Colson Whitehead is quickly becoming one of the country’s most exciting young writers.”
--Rachel Syme for Monkey See, NPR.org
PRAISE FOR COLSON WHITEHEAD:
“[Whitehead’s] writing does what writing should do; it refreshes our sense of the world.”
– John Updike, The New Yorker
“Colson Whitehead…[is] a large and vibrant talent…This is the voice of a writer who is watching America carefully.”
–The New York Observer
“Whitehead is making a strong case for a new name of his own: that of the best of the new generation of American novelists.”
“No novelist writing today is more engaging and entertaining when it comes to questions of race, class, and commercial culture than Colson Whitehead.”
“Whitehead has a David Foster Wallace-esque knack for punctuating meticulously figurative constructions with deadpan slacker wit….You can’t help but admire Whitehead’s writerly gifts.”
–The Los Angeles Times
“Whitehead can write sentences like nobody’s business.”
“Whitehead’s engaged eyes and precise prose show us the small details we overlook and the large ones we fail to absorb.”
—The Miami Herald
“[Whitehead] writes wonderfully, commanding a lush, poetic, mellifluous prose instrument.”
“Whitehead [is] one of the city’s and country’s finest young writers.”
“Ebullient, supremely confident.”
–San Diego Union Tribune
“A scientist of metropolitan encounters, he surveys places where the masses collide, knitting together hundreds of observations and calculations that usually remain unspoken.”
—The Village Voice
Top Customer Reviews
That said, Whitehead is this book's worst enemy. He takes every opportunity to show off his inventiveness, preen his considerable literary plumage and display his intimate acquaintance with the thesaurus. In playing with the narrative thread and timeline, sometimes just because he can, he adds unnecessary stress to what is not a terribly sturdy plot in the first place. Perhaps as he matures, he will write to make the story the thing instead of himself. If this book had 35% less exhibitionism and 30% more plot, it could have been a real showpiece. Instead, it is a pleasant, if sometimes tedious diversion written by an obviously talented, but all-too-self-indulgent author.
It seems that the reviews for this book are distinctly divided. Fans of the zombie/apocalypse genre have offered some pretty scathing reviews and low ratings. Fans of "literary fiction" are giving it a bit more credit. I'm generally more aligned with the literary fiction readers, but I think the zombie fans have some legitimate criticisms.
The main criticism against this book seems to be the lack of plot, and I can't disagree. A lot of the book is mildly amusing; it's just not very compelling. Even the (rare) engaging passages are frequently interrupted by reflections about the past, which significantly slow the pace. It took me about three time as long as it should have to finish the book, because I literally fell asleep within a few pages nearly every time I picked it up.
Although there's little plot, the book's main character is somewhat interesting. He's survived a long time since the "Last Night." His survival, though, is not due to his courage, strength, or cleverness. He's completely average with the exception of his cockroach-like survival instinct. Although readers are unlikely to fall in love with Mark Spitz, he provides an amusing lens for this story.
I have never reviewed a book before, but I just had to with this one. It just dawned on me that the book is a critique on the American lifestyle and bland social norms and ironically, we have all of the critics from magazine publishers and high minded newspapers giving this book good reviews. It is embarrassing. The book absolutely oozes with the author's presence and no plot presence. You can't even make the protagonist interesting? Not ONE interesting thing about Mark Spitz other than his name perhaps. It read with so many opportunities to create some excitement, only to fall into some verbose tangential languid (author's style here) soliloquys of rather extending proportions through ever winding dimensions of creative prose.... etc. etc.
Don't buy this book unless you are having trouble sleeping.
He also apparently suffers from a complete lack of knowledge of humanity. Perhaps this is an unfortunate philosophical commitment on Whitehead's part. His characters are fixed, static, cesspools--they do not change; they do not learn; they do not grow. Perhaps he thinks this is the way in which all people really operate. If so, I feel badly for him.
Worse yet--a post-apocalyptic tale involving zombies (and involving even zombies that do not move or threaten harm) offers a wide range of philosophical and ethical issues with which to grapple. Somehow, the author misses most of these and chooses to focus on one issue--that the protagonist is mediocre and therefore somehow apt for the situation at hand. It's infuriating and ultimately demoralizing. John Gardner put it best: "Fiddling with the hairs on an elephant's nose is indecent when the elephant happens to be standing on the baby."
I really wanted to like Zone One. I forced myself through to the end in the hopes that at some point it would move beyond mere character sketch and into the realm of story. It never did. This likely results from what I just mentioned--his characters never learn, change, or grow. If they did, this sketch would move towards story.
In Zone One, Whitehead demonstrated that he can obviously write, but he cannot tell a story.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Not a big fan but if you love the walking dead series or any type of zombie genre, you will enjoy it.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
It was difficult to differentiate between flashback and present-day. It seemed unfinished as well, but i do hope this doesn't turn into a series. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Pamcakes
I really liked the premise of this book but for some reason I had a hard time getting through itPublished 3 months ago by K. Thompson
Read from November 01 to 03, 2015
A different take on the zombie apocalypse. Because I forgot to review this when I actually read it (nearly three months before this was... Read more
I heard a lot of good things about this book. And the book does have some good qualities: an experienced author who has a way with words, and an intriguing story. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Nancy A
The book is well written and my curiosity kept me engaged long after many others in my Book Club gave up. Read morePublished 3 months ago by DMR
The writer makes this a pretty hard slog at times. I want to read the version where an editor cut it back some in terms of language.Published 4 months ago by Alexandra Davies
This author has a terminal case of whatever the literary equivalent of oversouling is. He can't tell a story without constantly calling attention to himself as a writer (and at the... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Beautifully written; maddeningly dull and regressive, as if narrative--forward narrative--were a sin against art. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Peter B. Tatiner