Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Zone One

What better beach reading can there be than your basic literary zombie novel?  To tell you the truth, I had put off reading Zone One by Colson Whitehead for quite some time because I thought having zombies as the last thing in my head before turning out the light would be a bad idea.   Much better to read it in full daylight on an island thousands of miles away from the zombie-ridden apocalypse that is the mainland.  And if worse comes to worst and some zombies make it to Hawaii, you can always shanghai a boat.  That's what I would do.

Wise move on my part (the postponed reading, that is, not stealing a boat).  I still had a zombie nightmare.  But I'm also really glad I read this book.

I love Colson Whitehead's writing (he also is one of the more interesting people I follow on Twitter--always unique), and though I haven't read everything of his, I'm always very glad when another of his novels comes out. (Other favorites: The Intuitionist (which I want to see turned into a movie starring Viola Davis) and Apex Hides the Hurt.)

I remembered why, reading Zone One.  I find myself trusting that Whitehead will answer the questions he raises.  He doesn't do it right away, but I find as I go along that he doesn't forget about that thing he brought up and didn't resolve; he'll get to it. And so though I found myself tense simply due to the tension in the situation, I didn't worry that Whitehead as a writer or storyteller would let me down.

Oh, the book.  Well, you know the drill: zombie apocalypse. people on the run, trying to rebuild society, blood, eviscerations, and blasting zombie heads off, blah, blah, blah.  Our protagonist, given the nickname Mark Spitz for reasons to be revealed much later, is part of a volunteer crew asked to help clean the less-active zombies out of Manhattan.  Only a couple more days and his team can head back to Fort Wonton in Chinatown for R&R.  Maybe things will get better.  Maybe they won't.  Nothing in Mark Spitz's experience suggests hoping for the best is anything but a bad idea.  But he carries on, likes some of the people he works with on Omega team, doesn't connect too much, thinks about the past a lot.

What is compelling about Mark Spitz is his insistence in his mediocrity, and that it is his uncanny skill to get by with minimum effort that has allowed him to survive this long.  He puts a lot of stock into this skill, and soon I did too.  He's not particularly heroic, but I figure he'll get by, somehow.

I am still thinking about this book.  I'm not sure I can tell you "what it was about." I'm not sure that matters.  If you insist, I'd say it's a meditation on success and survival and civilization and loss. It's a zombie novel. It's really good. You read it.  You tell me.

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