Zone One

Zone One

A Novel

Paperback - 2012
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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Underground Railroad

A pandemic has devastated the planet, sorting humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead. After the worst of the plague is over, armed forces stationed in Chinatown's Fort Wonton have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street--aka Zone One. Mark Spitz is a member of one of the three-person civilian sweeper units tasked with clearing lower Manhattan of the remaining feral zombies. Zone One unfolds over three surreal days in which Spitz is occupied with the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD), and the impossible task of coming to terms with a fallen world. And then things start to go terribly wrong...

At once a chilling horror story and a literary novel by a contemporary master, Zone One is a dazzling portrait of modern civilization in all its wretched, shambling glory.

Publisher: New York : Anchor Books, 2012.
Edition: 1st Anchor Books ed.
ISBN: 9780307455178
Characteristics: 322 p. ; 21 cm.
Alternative Title: Zone 1 : a novel


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SCL_Justin Aug 05, 2017

I’ve read a few reader reviews (as opposed to professional reviews, or reviews by writers, or literary critiques of somewhat higher worth than oh say this one you’re reading here) of Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, and it appears that I am the exact audience for this zombie novel about ennui.

First off the three days of “the present” are cut up with tonnes of flashbacks, giving the reader the pieces of how we got to this point. Characters all have the “Last Night” (before the world changed) story and the versions and variations we witness are a big part of the story. So structurally it wasn’t “this happens, then this, then this…” which is something I enjoy.

Second, while there was zombie killing action, the scenes were short and brutal. In books that’s how I like my action. Dwelling on how bullets penetrate undead flesh holds little interest for me, since one of the strengths of the novel is the interiority of the whole experience, how the characters feel about and are changed by the actions they’re taking. Whitehead’s writing dwells on the parts I care about, and can be damned pretty at times (even if there’s a bit of an emotional detachment to the whole thing).

Third, the protagonist was a self-proclaimed average person who ended up being good at surviving. He was not a badass. He was lonely and disaffected, middle class and black. He resembled a Murakami narrator, but one who drifted into a zombie war. The moments when he has to do something besides drift feel earned.

Fourth, I loved the choice to set the main story in the “rebuilding the world” phase. The characters aren’t the first wave of marines clearing out zombie hordes from the streets, buildings and subways of New York; they’re the civilian clean-up crew taking out the last stragglers. They’re more pest-control than soldiers (though they’re being directed by military types for the greater glory of the American Phoenix). It felt more like Bringing Out the Dead than The Walking Dead.

Fifth, the worldbuilding of the war against zombies had exactly the right amount of Catch-22 ridiculousness for me. There are strict anti-looting regulations enforced by the growing bureaucracy holed up in Buffalo, which mean that companies looking for an in when society builds back up again sponsor the rebuilding effort by allowing their products to be looted. I loved those kinds of details. And the language the characters use that doesn’t get explained until you’re used to them using it didn’t feel out of place.

In short, this is now probably my favourite zombie novel.

May 15, 2016

I resent having to give this a half a star, that's how bad it is.

Dec 16, 2015

Other reviewers have called this a "realist" post-apocalyptic novel and if by realist, they mean dull and meandering, than they are correct. It's become moderately fashionable for so-called literary writers to dabble in genre fiction (Chang Rae-Lee, Jonathan Lethem), but Colson Whitehead, the author of "Sag Harbor," reveals that he doesn't really understand the genre and that it's harder than it looks because it requires structure, action and tension, things he doesn't do well. If you want a "realist" post-apocalyptic novel, try "The Road" or any number of novels by J.G. Ballard, a vastly more talented writer. Heck, you'd be better off settling down with a season of "The Walking Dead." PS-One reviewer calls this "literature, plain and simple." Good literature is neither plain nor simple.

Sep 01, 2015

This book is like the person who takes 15mins to tell a 3min story.

Jun 02, 2014

The writing style of this book is very interesting. I can't decide if I hate it or like it but given that I finished reading the book I guess it was readable. My frustration is without using dates or some other type of indicator it could really take a while for the reader to understand whether this was a flashback story or part of the current timeline. A simple change would have made this a much more enjoyable read.

Jan 28, 2013

This is literature, plain and simple.

If all you're looking for is zombie splattering gore, you will be sorely disappointed.

If you want to actually feel the agony of the characters as they attempt to internalize a dying world, this is your book.

While there is some, this is a book that aims for ambience over action, and largely succeed. This book is the most engrossed I've ever felt in this literary sub-genre (which admittedly, the competition isn't all that fierce).

Sep 24, 2012

One of the better zombie apocalypse novels out there. This one is much more 'regular fiction' than 'genre fiction' and hence it takes a bit to get used to the author's style. Some reviewers have noted it is tough to figure out whether the action is in the past or present (or a number of different time periods the book takes place in) but didn't have that. I loved how the main character is pretty normal and relate-able despite being messed up due to what he has gone through. The actual descriptions (or at least illusions to) how society collapsed is quite chilling and it is scary to think about how mankind fighting back may not succeed either. I like how the book doesn't try to answer all questions either. Still, if you like zombie fiction, SF/Fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction, you'll like this.

Aug 31, 2012

I thought the story was good. However, there was too much "fluff" detail added which brought the pace down. It made the book really drag at multiple points.

It was OK to read the once, but I don't see myself reading it again.

Aug 11, 2012

Finished reading this book Aug. 8, 2012. It sagged in the middle but finished really well.

I wrote up a review of the book, which compares it to the E.B. White classic, "Here Is New York." Link to that review:

Jun 08, 2012

I am a fan of zombie fiction and this is one of the best. It's told in a literary style that makes you fill in the blank spaces. It flips between time periods but rarely pre-apocalypse. The "hero" has a shell-shocked seeming narrative that works well with the action.

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