I said in my last post I was procrastinating on getting this review written that's only mostly true. I had an episode of The Walking Dead sitting on the DVR so consider my decision to watch that instead of writing this research. But there's also the fact that Zone One lends itself to letting the book percolate for a couple days after you've finished it. The book is called a literary zombie novel and sure, it's technically a zombie novel, but that makes up such a small part of the story. It's really ruminations on things that have been lost in the new apocalyptic world.
This is a slow, meandering story as the main character Mark Spitz performs skel and straggler cleanup duty with the Omega team, as they try to make lower Manhattan habitable for people again. I kept forgetting that the story only takes place over 3 days. There are flashbacks and memories that made me feel like I'd spent years with the characters. Even the post-apocalyptic stress disorder (PASD) that almost every character suffers from in some way or another is pronounced "past." The constant flashbacks and side stories made it difficult to follow at times and I found myself re-reading sections going "Wait, where are we? Is a zombie still trying to eat his face? Cos that's where I think we left off before he noticed that the skel kinda looked like his 3rd grade math teacher and we were off on that tangent. Oh yes, now that I've turned back 40 pages, a zombie is currently (literally) trying to eat his face." This was frustrating at first because even though I heard that "literary" designation I was still expecting a typical zombie apocalypse novel, along the lines of World War Z. Once I got over the pacing and just let the prose wash over me, I was happy.
The prose. The prose is what makes this novel. I'm so happy I read this on my Kindle because I felt like I marked down a paragraph or phrase on every page.** The book has so many moments moments of comedy and poignancy and tragedy. Here are just a couple of the many (many) lines that I highlighted.
"Rumor was they had two of the last Nobel laureates working on things up there -- useful ones, none of that Peace Prize or Literature stuff" (page 35)
"He stopped hooking up with other people once he realized the first thing he did was calculate whether or not he could outrun them." (page 115)
"Hope is a gateway drug, don't do it." (page 179)
"Would the old bigotries be reborn as well, when they cleared out this Zone, and the next, and so on, and they were packed together again, tight and suffocating on top of each other? Or was that particular bramble of animosities, fears, and envies impossible to recreated? If they could bring back paperwork, Mark Spitz thought, they could certainly reanimate prejudice, parking tickets and reruns." (page 231)The one thing about this book is I can't see myself re-reading it, at least not right away. I re-read a lot and usually when I really love a book, I want to re-visit it again. And while I can't say I'll never read this again, I can't see myself coming back to it anytime soon. I came, I saw, I enjoyed, I'm good. For awhile anyway.
*I hate hardback books but I'm also impatient so the Kindle has been especially helpful.
** No really. I'm looking at my notes and I have stuff on page 142, 149, 150, 151, 158. I highlight ALL THE THINGS.
Title quote from page 130/location 2013
Whitehead, Colson. Zone One: A Novel. Doubleday, 2011. Kindle edition.