Book Review Friday: Zone One by Colson Whitehead

zone one

Whenever a literary writer ventures into genre territory, there is a burst of intellectual excitement to see what a “real” writer can do with genre material.  This snobbishness underlies a belief that genre writing is a lesser literary form that can easily be mastered by those who have written serious fiction. Author Colson Whitehead has an impressive resume including prestigious awards and nominations, but it is no guarantee he can write a good zombie novel.

Zone One refers to a part of lower Manhattan being reclaimed for human resettlement after the zombie apocalypse. Main character Mark Spitz is part of a group of sweepers responsible for going building to building and room to room to eradicate the remaining zombies after the military has rid the area of the majority of them.  Zombies in Zone One fall into two categories: those with cannibalistic tendencies and the stragglers, zombies stuck in an endless loop of repetitive action such as working a copy machine or surfing a long dead internet. The concept of these walking corpses, still somehow tethered to long ago actions and impulses, is an interesting addition to zombie lore. These stragglers are not necessarily dangerous, instead they mirror the stale, predictable actions of the survivors. This new world, sponsored by corporations and managed by the military, hardly seems worth the effort.

In Zone One those in power believe that the zombie problem can be fixed as if it were a lame Super Bowl half time show. If you add enough pomp, pageantry, and a few catchy slogans, America will be ready to return to normal. Unfortunately the one item missing from this brew is hope. Without hope, this reader lost interest in the plight of Mark Spitz and the other survivors.

Zone One is plodding and depressing, but serviceable. The living exhibited the expected trauma and hopelessness at their plight. The zombies continued to be mindless and overwhelming in number.  At the end, it seems, man is destined for extinction.  A sad end to a hopeless novel.

Zone One: A Novel is available at Amazon.

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