Trudi's Reviews > Zone One

Zone One by Colson Whitehead
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's review
Nov 04, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: apocalyptic-types, zombies, 2011, dystopia, survive-this, on-my-kobo, the-big-letdown, not-for-me
Read from November 15 to 21, 2011

Damn, this book is cold. Like, really, really, C-O-L-D. The language is magnificent; there is no doubt Whitehead can write, but he writes with no heat. His writing here is like a perfect, shiny new Cadillac (but with no engine). Without the engine, what’s the point? You can sit and look pretty all the live long day, but you’re not gonna get anywhere worth talking about (or remembering).

Whitehead’s problem here seems to be that he gets so caught up in delivering the goods on literary stylistics and gymnastics that the story (what little there is) limps anemically along side by side with underdeveloped, emotionless characters. While there may indeed be a method to his madness, I’m not biting, because for me story trumps EVERYTHING. If you ain’t got a story to tell, what the hell are you doing writing a novel?

Not once did Zone One grab me by the throat and make me sit up and pay attention. I felt like a detached spectator, ambivalent, witnessing unfolding events in a clinical matter like the scientist who examines a bug under the microscope.

Whitehead gets too cerebral -- mining his material for metaphor and symbols, layering his post-apocalyptic landscapes with foreshadowing and poetic images. Beautiful yes, but nevertheless soulless and unsatisfying. Which brings me back to my original point -- cold.

And here I will quote from my review of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. It applies here just as well as it did there:
I hate “big” ideas (insert jazz hands here) that don’t come wrapped in a gripping story that’s going to smack me in the face. Story. Comes. First. Always. You may be brilliant and have awesome insights into the human condition, but unless you can weave a tale that’s going to put me on my ass I don’t want to hear about it. And I’m not helping you along by faking it When Harry Met Sally style pretending you wrote a great novel because I’m keen to wax poetic on how the world is shit and then we die.
But that's just me.

If you want a literary zombie novel that will put you on your ass, read The Reapers Are the Angels. That book is everything this book is not.
"Let the cracks between things widen until they are no longer cracks but the new places for things. That was where they were now. The world wasn't ending: it had ended and now they were in the new place. They could not recognize it because they had never seen it before."
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Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Nice! I am so curious about this one. The NYT Book Review had a pretty good write-up on this one, courtesy of Glen Duncan.

Trudi Daniel wrote: "Nice! I am so curious about this one. The NYT Book Review had a pretty good write-up on this one, courtesy of Glen Duncan."

I'm really enjoying it so far Daniel. The language is incredible; like The Reapers Are the Angels it definitely qualifies as that rare breed of the literary zombie novel.

message 3: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Excellent, I will pick it up then. Have you read any of the books put out by Print is Dead? "Pray to Stay Dead" is especially good (though I wouldn't call it literary by any stretch).

Trudi Awesome! I will definitely look out for that one.

message 5: by Daniel (new)

Daniel I love the name that the editors gave to their imprint; it's too perfect for the genre.

Trudi This one just wasn't for me Daniel, but there are lots of really positive reviews out there (some even raving).

message 7: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Trudi wrote: "This one just wasn't for me Daniel, but there are lots of really positive reviews out there (some even raving)."

I've seen some of those reviews. My tastes hew closer to your own, though, so I'll probably give this one a miss.

message 8: by Lou (new) - added it

Lou Looks like a few reviews are making me give this a miss.

Maciek Trudi, I agree with your review. I knew that the reviewers were divided when it came to this book and I hoped to be in the 5 star camp but alas, it was not to be.

Trudi Sometimes you just got to take a chance Maciek. I know how you feel.

Stephen This is still my favorite review of this book, Trudi. You really nailed it.

Trudi Thanks Stephen! That means a lot coming from you.
And I'm going to take this opportunity to once again push The Reapers Are the Angels. That's where the money is, trust me ;o)

Stephen I have it and it is on my on deck circle. I am looking forward to it. We have usually been very in sync on our books and so I am confident that it is going to make me gush. If so, this site may not be able to contain my enthusiasm. :)

Trudi I can't wait :)

message 15: by Doug (new) - rated it 2 stars

Doug S. Story IS everything! I couldn't agree more. Great review!

Karen I couldn't agree more about The Reapers are the Angels--totally underappreciated, terrific book!

message 17: by Fred (new) - rated it 1 star

Fred Fulford It's so self indulgent. I gave up in the end

message 18: by Scott (new) - rated it 1 star

Scott Very spot on: a novel full of beautiful language but no meaning or emotion or plot. Such a waste of nice prose!

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