Zone One

Zone One
Colson Whitehead
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Harvill Secker
Thu, 06/10/2011

Mark Spitz is a grunt charged with picking off the last remaining zombies in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan.  With the active ones mostly killed by the military, some plague-ridden characters are stuck in a brainless rut, either haunting a meaningful place or their last office.  With many flashbacks, and a very small amount of dialogue, we see the life Mark has led to bring him through the disaster to this point.

This is clearly designed to be more literary than the average zombie book, much more akin perhaps to a Chuck Palahniuk title.  There’s evidently a metaphor in the types of zombies, and not nearly enough death for some.  But contrastingly there is a lot of life in these pages, with a full existence for Mark, and a full world for him and us to explore.  Zombies and other horror characters are of course often metaphors for something else, and here the zombies are designed to be us, lumpenly plodding through current city life until someone designing a better world for us all bashes us about the head.

The style isn’t perfect, for it takes time often for Whitehead to let us in on his new world’s technology, the vocabulary is quite diverse, and there might too many diversionary flashbacks for some.  But this is a rich volume with many moods and much great invention.  This zombie breakout might be Whitehead’s own breakout novel.

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