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Zone One (2011)

by Colson Whitehead

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,0361297,959 (3.33)215
Mark Spitz and his squad of three "sweepers" move through 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 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.… (more)
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» See also 215 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
Life in the wasteland is chaotic. What's it really like to lose everything? To live every day with the ashes of a world that's gone forever? And why even bother to keep trying?

This might be the saddest zombie novel I've ever read. Zone One takes the moments of disorientation and loss in most zombie stories -- the empty streets of New York in "Omega Man", or Atlanta in "The Walking Dead" -- and crawls up inside and nests there permanently. Every character cherishes their stories of how it Used To Be. They exchange memories as cautiously as trust.

This isn't a thriller or an action story. It's more like a meditation (or maybe an elegy); time runs forward and back as Mark narrates. The pace is slow, but in the end it worked for me. ( )
  daplz | Apr 7, 2024 |
Zombie post-apocalypse fiction. I found it a little hard to stay focused. Pandemic onset. Unclear origin or why or how it spreads? Story told out of order without a real gripe on the characters (since most people die) the main story being how one didn’t end up a skel or getting eaten (or does getting eaten make you a skel?) main character interesting, a B type. Average. Interesting discourse as to how this abets his survival (why anyone would want to survive is a seriously considered question—many do not). Story focuses around New York (with a funny digression in Northampton). The apocalypse will be bleak, man.
  BookyMaven | Dec 6, 2023 |
Apologies for anyone who did like this — but I did not get on with it at all. Such a meagre plot. I found it slow-moving and dull. Maybe I'm less impatient than I used to be. I was really only reading at the end to make sure it was as bad as I thought. Not saying it's meritless — other people may well have got something worthwhile out of it.

*Minor spoiler*
Also annoyed that the one tiny innovation Colson introduced was of course a huge plot point at the end — a very obvious Chekhov's gun. ( )
  thisisstephenbetts | Nov 25, 2023 |
Nothing original as far as zombie books go but a good read about a couple of days in the life of a survivor and the stories he has been told. ( )
  everettroberts | Oct 20, 2023 |
A great premise, and especially compelling at this point in the COVID pandemic, but Whitehead doesn't really do that much with it. The novel is essentially the same thing over and over, lots of lists (things, emotions), but not much development. ( )
  lschiff | Sep 24, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
“Zone One” spares the form’s conventional reliance on summer-movie scares and chase scenes — though there’s plenty of those too — and instead turns an unsparing focus on the dark reality such a world-crumbling plague unleashes. ... At one point, Whitehead compares humanity’s shift to the ravenous undead as self-actualization for the secretly immoral or those too timid to chase their dreams. “I have always been like this,” Whitehead coldly observes in a mob of townspeople-turned-monsters. “Now I’m more me.” ... Linguistically cryptic military diagnoses, the PR churn of the war machine and a merciless city that fed on its own long before its citizens started feeding on one another still endure in Whitehead’s apocalypse, all the way to the bitter end.
added by Lemeritus | editLos Angeles Times, Chris Barton (pay site) (Oct 30, 2011)
A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? ... Colson Whitehead is a literary novelist, but his latest book, “Zone One,” features zombies, which means horror fans and gore gourmands will soon have him on their radar. He has my sympathy. Broad-spectrum marketing will attract readers for whom having to look up “cathected” or “brisant” isn’t just an irritant but a moral affront. These readers will huff and writhe and swear their way through (if they make it through) and feel betrayed and outraged and migrained. But unless they’re entirely beyond the beguilements of art they will also feel fruitfully disturbed, because “Zone One” will have forced them, whether they signed up for it or not, to see the strangeness of the familiar and the familiarity of the strange. ... There will be grumbling from self-­appointed aficionados of the undead (Sir, I think the author will find that zombies actually . . .) and we’ll have to listen for another season or two to critics batting around the notion that genre-slumming is a recent trend, but none of that will hurt “Zone One,” which 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.
added by Lemeritus | editThe New York Times, Glen Duncan (pay site) (Oct 28, 2011)
Cinematic in scope and nimble in its use of hard-core gore, it’s an absorbing read, crammed with thoughtful snapshots of the world the survivors have left behind... The implicit question: Have we all become zombies? Are 21st-century Americans wandering around in a stupor, drinking designer coffee from designer mugs, ordering the same modular sofas from the same big box retailers, standing in trances before copying machines in drab office buildings coast to coast? ... Whitehead’s answer appears to be “yes,” which can be problematic for the novel. As readers, we should be at liberty to mourn a civilization that appears to be gone for good — one with safer homes, loving families and, yes, flat screen TVs. But the book sometimes makes us feel naive, even foolish for courting these feelings, in the same way a smug New Yorker make a non-native feel like a hick.
In the endless and in no way tedious debate between lovers of genre and lovers of whatever "literary" fiction is (we can't define it but we know it when we see it), consider this theory: a book is not a song. A book is the performance of a song... Whitehead isn't your usual zombie singer. He never overburdens the zombies with allegory or omits the requisite gore, but he does what all artists do: he observes, closely, and reports back what he sees... Whitehead does have a tendency to overwrite – sentences sometimes grow so rhythmical, you fail to take in their actual meaning as the words wash over you – but he achieves a kind of miracle of tone. A fragile hope permeates these pages, one so painful and tender, it's heartbreaking.
added by Lemeritus | editThe Guardian, Patrick Ness (Oct 13, 2011)
From the very opening, Zone One sets itself as a novel about ideas, rather than people. The hallmarks of (recherché) postmodernism are ever present: temporal distortion, metafiction, pastiche, paranoia... This approach may work to great effect elsewhere, yet in a zombie novel, where pace and narrative urgency are of the essence, it falls sadly flat. On the odd occasion that the novel does begin to gain some momentum, the author has a tendency to embark on tiresome digressions which involve but are not limited to groceries, flossing, tog-count and yoga mats. As a result, the narrative shambles along at the pace of an emaciated skel... This is, without doubt, a dense, difficult book. In parts it is amusingly clever, yet it is also guilty of being too clever. The author’s use of temporal distortion, for instance, lacks the necessary control leaving the plot tangled, disoriented, and dull.

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Whitehead, Colsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Corral, RodrigoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koay, Pei LoiDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Bill Thomas
First words
He always wanted to live in New York. His Uncle Lloyd lived downtown on Lafayette, and in the long stretches between visits he daydreamed about living in his apartment.
The last time he saw his childhood home was on Last Night. It, too, had looked normal from the outside, in the new meaning of normal that signified resemblance to the time before the flood. Normal meant "the past." Normal was the unbroken idyll of life before. The present was a series of intervals differentiated from each other only by the degree of dread they contained. The future? The future was clay in their hands.
It was hard to argue with the logic of the Island die-hards and their sun-drenched dreams of carefree living once every meter inside the beach line had been swept. The ocean was a beautiful wall, the most majestic barricade. Living would be easy. They'd make furniture out of coconuts, forget technology, have litters of untamed children who said adorable things like, "Daddy, what's on demand?"

In practice, something always went wrong. The Carolinas, for example. Someone snuck back to the mainland for penicillin or scotch, or a boatful of aspirants rowed ashore bearing a stricken member of their party they refused to leave behind, sad orange life vests encircling their heaving chests. The new micro-societies inevitably imploded, on the island getaways, in reclaimed prisons, at the mountaintop ski lodge accessible only by sabotaged funicular, in the underground survivalist hideouts finally summoned to utility. The rules broke down.
Mark Spitz had met plenty of the divine-retribution folks over the months. This was their moment; they were umbrella salesmen standing outside a subway entrance in a downpour. The human race deserved the plague, we brought it on ourselves for poisoning the planet, for the Death of God, the calculated brutalities of the global economic system, for driving primordial species to extinction: the entire collapse of values as evidenced by everything from nuclear fission to reality television to alternate side of the street parking. Mark Spitz could only endure these harangues for a minute or two before he split. It was boring. The plague was the plague. You were wearing galoshes, or you weren't.
He missed the stupid stuff everyone missed, the wifi and the workhorse chromium toasters, mass transportation and gratis transfers, rubbing cheese-puff dust on his trousers and calculating which checkout line was shortest, he missed the things unconjurable in reconstruction. That which will escape. His people. His family and friends and twinkly-eyed lunchtime counterfolk. The dead. He missed the extinct. The unfit had been wiped out, how else to put it, and now all that remained were ruined like him.
When he used to watch disaster flicks and horror movies he convinced himself he’d survive the particular death scenario: happen to be away from his home zip code when the megatons fell, upwind of the fallout, covering the bunker’s air vents with electrical tape. He was spread-eagled atop the butte and catching his breath when the tsunami swirled ashore, and in the lottery for a berth on the spacecraft, away from an Earth disintegrating under cosmic rays, his number was the last one picked and it happened to be his birthday. Always the logical means of evasion, he’d make it through as he always did. He was the only cast member to heed the words of the bedraggled prophet in Act I, and the plucky dude who slid the lucky heirloom knife from his sock and sawed at the bonds while in the next room the cannibal family bickered over when to carve him for dinner. He was the one left to explain it all to the skeptical world after the end credits, jibbering in blood-drenched dungarees before the useless local authorities, news media vans, and government agencies who spent half the movie arriving on the scene. I know it sounds crazy, but they came from the radioactive anthill, the sorority girls were dead when I got there, the prehistoric sea creature is your perp, dredge the lake and you’ll find the bodies in its digestive tract, check it out. By his sights, the real movie started after the first one ended, in the impossible return to things before.
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Mark Spitz and his squad of three "sweepers" move through 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 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.

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