By Colson Whitehead
Hardcover: 272 pages
Pub date: October 18, 2011
In many respects, Zone One is a quintessential literary plague novel about Manhattan – complete with satire and allegories – where zombies happen to be the plague. It is obvious Whitehead is a lover of words. He also loves to evoke imagery, such as the omnipresent ash that filters down from the sky and torments the protagonist, Mark Spitz. No, not that Mark Spitz. Most of the survivors are reborn into new names and personas in the new world.
Mark Spitz is the kind of average guy who lives in his parents’ basement on Long Island, yearning for a “real” life in The City. He is the kind of guy who unwittingly spends his last hours of normalcy indulging in Atlantic City debauchery. He is nothing special. In the time before the virus he is the kind of guy who does just enough to skate by – no real passions or ambitions. He goes through the motions. However, in the post-plague world, his self-preservation instincts are something special. He is almost an inverse of the “skels.” Once the world goes dead, he comes alive.
We spend a lot of time inside Mark’s head, which at times can be disorienting. Through him, and his fellow survivors, we learn how they came to be part of the effort to reclaim Manhattan. They are working on an area near Canal St., known as Zone One. They have plans to reclaim Zones Two and Three, further up the island. We also learn about the provisional government and how even in the apocalypse corporations are dictating policy. The sections regarding the government and rebranding of things like post-traumatic stress disorder are keen satire.
This is a good section regarding planning for the future, “…Mark Spitz’s hosts began to air their post-plague plans and schemes. This was a rare pastime, at least in his vicinity, not easily indulged in, and Mark Spitz was surprised to hear perfectly (relatively) sane people partake. More than a jinx on deliverance, this was straddling reality with a pillow while it was sleeping and pressing down while it bucked and kicked.”
As I said, this is also a novel about Manhattan and this exemplifies that, “Omega wormed through the intestines of a starter-apartment rental tower, and floor after floor of beige carpet, noise-permeable walls, and fingerprint-smudged doorways soured his disposition. His friends in the city lived in buildings like that, and the hallway always reeked of the dead ambitions decomping behind the doors.”
I can see where zombie fans who want the plot to be spoon-fed with a heaping side of action will get frustrated. They will also probably need a dictionary on hand to even read the book. Fuck ‘em. If you like to think and you like zombies, give this a shot.
Overall, this is a great additional to the cannon of zombie lore. I hope Whitehead’s success encourages more writers of quality fiction to also give genre fiction a try. I’m tired of reading crappy zombies stories and you should be too.