Review: Zone One by Colson Whitehead

A local literary light creates zombies for those who still have brains.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Lurching, monosyllabic and with very little on its mind: This describes not just the archetypical zombie, but the majority of books featuring the flesh-eating undead that have lumbered into publication recently. Of course, when local literary lion Colson Whitehead—the author of fictional allegories including The Intuitionist and NYC-venerating essay collection The Colossus of New York—picks up the trope and applies it to a novel of his own, he does more than just suck up his readers' gray matter.

Mark Spitz (ironically nicknamed for the swimmer after a memorable firefight) and his crew of "sweepers" live in a camp located in Zone One—the first area of Manhattan civilized forces have reclaimed from predatory zombies following a global apocalypse. They don body armor and wander buildings looking to destroy stray "skels"—that is, zombies—or "stragglers," uncomprehending but passive individuals frozen in some important moment of their former lives. After two years in this dark, new world, Spitz and his cohorts trudge through gore and wait for the day skels cease shattering any feeling of security, so that they can settle down to some semblance of normal life.

Though combat and close calls are certainly a part of Zone One, the bulk of the novel moves past fears about infiltration and collapse to an elegiac contemplation in quiet moments between engagements. And though the poetic melancholy shared by protagonist and author alike is lovely, the pacing of the story suffers and its happenings are less than compelling as a result. As Zone One mourns a city, and a civilization, that can't quite contemplate its own demise, the reader will at least be satisfied that zombies can sometimes stimulate brains just as well as they eat them.

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By Colson Whitehead. Doubleday, $26.