Monday, October 17, 2011

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Book Details 
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
Hardcover, 272 Pages
2011, Doubleday
ISBN: 0385528078

In this wry take on the post-apocalyptic horror novel, a pandemic has devastated the planet. The plague has sorted humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead.

Now the plague is receding, and Americans are busy rebuild­ing civilization under orders from the provisional govern­ment based in Buffalo. Their top mission: the resettlement of Manhattan. Armed forces have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street—aka Zone One—but pockets of plague-ridden squatters remain. While the army has eliminated the most dangerous of the infected, teams of civilian volunteers are tasked with clearing out a more innocuous variety—the “malfunctioning” stragglers, who exist in a catatonic state, transfixed by their former lives.

Mark Spitz is a member of one of the civilian teams work­ing in lower Manhattan. Alternating between flashbacks of Spitz’s desperate fight for survival during the worst of the outbreak and his present narrative, the novel unfolds over three surreal days, as it depicts the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the impossible job of coming to grips with the fallen world.

And then things start to go wrong.

Both spine chilling and playfully cerebral, Zone One bril­liantly subverts the genre’s conventions and deconstructs the zombie myth for the twenty-first century.

Zone One was kind of blah for me. The premise was interesting - in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse the government is trying to take back livable areas from the undead, the first being Zone One in Manhattan - but the story was told in a dry manner that made the events less exciting that they should have been.

Zone One came off as horror trying to pass for literary fiction. That isn't to say a novel can't be serious in the horror genre, but that Zone One can't quite pull it off. The novel only covers three days during the Zone One clean-up, but in numerous flashbacks to his life post-zombie uprising, but pre-Zone One, we experience the tale of Mark Spitz. He's interesting as far as his experiences go, but as a character he just wasn't that compelling.

The novel would have been much more interesting has it focused more on the camps, government and rebuilding itself - the concepts that the novel seemed built around. The plot was often character driven though, which was unfortunate as the majority we see are sort of one-dimensional shell-shocked survivors doing what needs to be done rather than fully formed characters with motivation of their own.

The one zombie attribute I really enjoyed in Zone One were the stragglers - zombies that didn't quite transition properly and are now sort of frozen in time, not moving and attempting to eat people, yet not rotting corpses either. Ridding the city of the stragglers is the primary job of the teams in Zone One, so we see a lot of them, but it's left up to the reader to try to reason why they are the way they are.

Zone One is decent, but misses the mark for both terror and thought provocation. It's just kind of there, much like the straggler zombies in the novel.


Colson Whitehead's

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