Kathy Piper's Reviews > The Zero

The Zero by Jess Walter
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Feb 17, 12

Read from January 23 to February 17, 2012

So, here’s my dilemma. Jess Walter is one of my favorite contemporary authors. This is based on “Citizen Vince” and “The Financial Lives of the Poets”, which I read and devoured with glee. His wickedly dark humor resonates with me and therefore I greatly anticipated reading this book. Sadly, “The Zero” did not live up to my expectations. The protagonist, Brian Remy, has these “gaps” of memory, possibly due to his having shot himself in the head in the beginning of the book. He forgets how he got where he is, forgets what he’s supposed to do, forgets who he’s working for. And these gaps don’t really get filled in for the reader. So we, too, are left wondering what the heck is going on here!

The Zero is about Ground Zero and the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster. Remy was there that day; he went into the building just before it collapsed. It’s not clear how he got out, because the story is told in Remy’s voice, and he doesn’t remember much about it. So neither do we. Remy’s initial assignment seems to be to track down one of the victims, who his bosses seem to think escaped just before the attack and may have been complicit with the terrorists. He goes down a lot of blind alleys (both figurative and literal), forms a romantic relationship with the victim’s sister, then inexplicably sleeps with the sister’s boss, even though he cannot figure out how he got into the boss’ bedroom. There are some seemingly shady Middle Eastern characters whose intentions seem contradictory, thus confusing this reader even more.

Remy doesn’t know who the “good guys” are and who the “bad guys” are. So neither do we. Everyone has seemingly conflicting agendas and the lines between “good” and “bad” are disappearing rapidly. And maybe this infernal confusion about right vs wrong is the message here.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Steve You have it right, in my opinion. So why the two stars? This is the laziest novel I've ever read. There is so much wrong with this: the protagonist/author doesn't know what happened to him (so how can he write this?) because he was shot; why he's doing what he's doing, for the same reason; who has meaningless sex a few times with women he doesn't know and can't remember because he was drunk; collegues who assume he knows what his "mission" is but it's set up so awkwardly that it seems a con game--but by the author on us, his readers. Why should any self-respecting author try to con his readers so openly? Why does anyone think this is about 9/11?


Kathy Piper Steve wrote: "You have it right, in my opinion. So why the two stars? This is the laziest novel I've ever read. There is so much wrong with this: the protagonist/author doesn't know what happened to him (so how ..."

Thanks for your comments, Steve. I guess the reason I gave it 2 stars is because I really, really like this author for other books of his that I have read. Kind of a dumb reason, but he really is an excellent writer. Just not with this particular book. But do try out his other books, such as Citizen Vince, Financial Lives of the Poets or Beautiful Ruins. Really good stuff!


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