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The Zero by Jess Walter
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Oct 31, 07

Read in September, 2007

This is not a bad book. It participates in two genres: it is a hard-boiled crime novel and a kind of absurdist satire in the style of what I imagine Catch-22 reads like (although I've never read it) or how I imagine some people prefer to read Kafka's novels. The novel uses these two genres to tell a story about 9/11. The hero is a detective who suffers from a degenerative eye condition and from profound short-term memory loss (so that the focalized narrative always breaks off mid-scene and resumes in medias res in the next scene, a Memento-like gimmick that works well at first, but becomes tedious in the end and perhaps even a cop-out for a more ambitious way of bringing together the clues of the intricate detective plot). Some of the secondary characters are absolutely brilliantly done, especially one cop, one shadowy government agent and one Giuliani/Bush amalgam: hilarious satire of various kinds of hero and security and mourning rhetoric, and of the profiteering and opportunism that they cover up. The descriptions of the city, of the zero itself, are striking. The hero himself is a zero, drinking as much as any Philip Marlowe, but without the wit to match. I appreciate very much how this writer, Jess Walter, uses these genres and the metaphors of blindness and memory-loss to tell a story of this event. In the end the novel takes a turn for the absurd and the conspiratorial, and I think this pure paranoia or existential dread leave ambiguous certain political and economic forces about which there can really be no doubt. But I think the book captures very well a kind of contradictory, insincere hysteria in US culture around this event. Well written, with respect for the hugeness and subtlety of the topic, often very funny. Recommended!
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Dorian (new)

Dorian Thoroughly enjoyed this review--though I admit I was a bit surprised by your eventual verdict given the first line. Where, for you, "This is not a bad book" means, "This is quite a good book," for me "This is not a bad book" means, "This is not a very good book." I guess this speaks to a difference between us-your fundamental charitableness, my grumpiness, etc.

At any rate, this makes me want to read the book. I have another book by the same author, Citizen Vince," at home. I should try that one too.


Josh I'm not sure it's charitableness exactly, and I'm sure it's not grumpiness on your part! But my "free reading" has been so sporadic lately, so full of stops and starts, that I haven't had a coherent feel for the books I've been looking at. When I started writing the review, I wasn't remembering the book so well, but once I started thinking about it and writing about it, it struck me as a much better book. "Not bad" at all! Let me know if you like Citizen Vince!


message 3: by David (new)

David Kross "Catch-22" is a great book. Don't put off reading it another minute. There's nothing quite like it.


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