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Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Zone One (2011)

by Colson Whitehead

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Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
I have been a minor fan of Colson Whitehead since I read one of his books for a Dewey's Readathon several years back, so it was rather exciting to see he has a new one out. Now, if I had known ahead of time it was going to be about zombies, I probably would have backed off. I am not the biggest fan of zombies in fiction, literature or otherwise (it is only with a grudging sense of respect I still watch The Walking Dead - and let's be honest, no one watches/reads Highschool of the Dead for the story). Still, what I found in Whitehead's treatment of the zombie genre was one of the most startling, dark depictions of a post-apocalyptic dead-filled world I've ever read. It was dark, at times it was hard to read, and I would definitely suggest it to anyone a little sick of the zombie shtick and looking for a fresh look on the subject.

Some issues came up during reading the book, several which could be easily explained away by the story itself, but others which slightly hampered my reading enjoyment. Whitehead's writing style is, for lack of a better word, dense. His sentences can easily flip between being lengthy verging on rambling and short choppy thoughts interjected between soliloquies. Many reviewers have described the narrative as being cold, and that is certainly true, but it is also important because the main character himself, Mark Spitz, is cold and disconnected from his world. He has spent his entire life maintaining a perfect distance away from other people and the zombie-calypse isn't going to stop him now. If anything, it only furthers the space between him as a person and a society that is quickly falling into hell. Some might be put off by such a protagonist. At least he doesn't start panicking in the middle of a crisis and start making stupid decisions like so many past protags in his place have done, you have to give him that.

All in all, a brilliant and bloody work. Not for those who dislike gore or descriptions of rotting bodies walking around. Once again, a reminder to myself that Mr. Whitehead is certainly an author to keep track of. ( )
  SarahHayes | Feb 20, 2017 |
Dense, non-horror, satire mixed with zombies (sort of). Hated it. Kept hoping "Mark Spitz" would get eaten. ( )
  lesmel | Jan 25, 2017 |
This was an interesting read and I think I'll need to digest it a bit. It is one of those books that begs you to reread the ending. I know a lot of people like this book and it's attempt to bridge or mesh Literary Fiction and Horror. I applaud the effort, but it didn't really work for me. Perhaps I needed to know more about this book going into it so my expectations were different. ( )
  EllsbethB | Sep 4, 2016 |
This book has no heart. I had high expectations for this one because the language is beautiful, but that's where it stops. It almost feels like the author was purposely trying to be a bit linguistically challenging as a way of standing out from all the poorly written zombie/post-apocalyptic novels out there. Unfortunately, it still failed. I was bored throughout most of this. ( )
  PagesandPints | Sep 1, 2016 |
Zone One is a very good novel; I think the reason it has not been well-received by ordinary readers is because the zombie plotline is rather straightforward. This plot is well-developed, but nothing special. But the reason the book is very good is its efficacy as satire. The zombies, you see, are rather incidental; if you read it not as a zombie story but as a social critique you will enjoy it much more.

It does take a while to get going, as Colson Whitehead seems to be the sort of writer who favours saying fifty words when just ten would suffice. It's very wordy, and sometimes you're half-way through a paragraph before you realise he's talking about a past event in flashback rather than the present narrative. Whitehead goes off on a lot of tangents, so that even though the story ostensibly takes place over three days it takes a long time to get there and the book as a whole seems a lot longer than its 250 or so pages.

But, if you are a tolerant and open-minded reader, you should find Zone One to be a very agreeable book. Though wordy, Whitehead does occasionally throw in a good nugget of lyricism. In one of my favourite examples, describing a mob of zombies staggering aimlessly down a road, he notes the compasses in their veins quivering at no true north save the next square in front of them." (pg. 122). In another example describing a zombie's decrepitude, he begins: "She was around Mark Spitz's [the protagonist] age. not yet thirty when the plague dropped her in its amber..." (pg. 224). Occasionally, this lyricism does get out of hand. Early on, describing an office, he mentions how "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." (pp11-12). But, for the most part, the prose is unobstructive, and it does seem to become less overwrought as the story unfolds.

Overall, my suggestion would be not to view it as a zombie novel; or rather, to view it as a zombie novel but staying mindful of the caveat that this is not its main focus. It's not about blowing zombies' brains out, or even about survival in a post-apocalyptic world. It's about using the end of the world trope as a black mirror for reflecting on our contemporary Western world. The book's targets, in its raison d'être as a social satire, are wide-ranging and the vast majority hit the mark, though hard to classify in a review. Even the plotline improves towards the middle and end. There is some foreshadowing of what is going to happen, a general atmosphere of impending doom (or, as Whitehead phrases it, "a disquieting under-tremor to every movement and sound." (pg. 192)). It is a rather clever book, and I think some readers are just so disappointed that it wasn't the page-turning zombie thriller they were hoping for that they overlooked its merits. While not exceptional, it cleverly uses a post-apocalyptic scenario to make us think about the current state of our existence and where we are headed: our society, our motivations, our humanity. It asks the question: if this world were to end, would we have it in us to respond and rebuild? Like all good satire, it doesn't answer the question - rather it expertly crafts the question and lets an enterprising reader make up their own mind. Mark Spitz put it at even money (pg. 139). What about you?" ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Colson Whiteheadprimary authorall editionscalculated
Corral, RodrigoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koay, Pei LoiDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385528078, Hardcover)

Guest Reviewer: Justin Cronin on Zone One by Colson Whitehead

The phrase “the thinking person’s [something]” may be terminally overused, but surely that’s what Colson Whitehead has accomplished in Zone One--a savvy zombie classic, the best addition to the genre since George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:53 -0400)

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In a post-apocalyptic world decimated by zombies, survivor efforts to rebuild are focused on Manhattan, where civilian team member Mark Spitz works to eliminate remaining infected stragglers and remembers his horrifying experiences at the height of the zombie plague.… (more)

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