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The Zero

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  2,342 ratings  ·  360 reviews
What's left of a place when you take the ground away?

Answer: The Zero.

Brian Remy has no idea how he got here. It's been only five days since his city was attacked, and Remy is experiencing gaps in his life--as if he were a stone skipping across water. He has a self-inflicted gunshot wound he doesn't remember inflicting. His son wears a black armband and refuses to
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 29th 2006 by Harper (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.51  · 
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Betsy Robinson
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I admired the Jess Walter books I’ve read previously (Citizen Vince, Beautiful Ruins, We All Live in Water, and especially The Financial Lives of Poets), but none of them prepared me for the level of gobsmacked I feel after reading The Zero, a nightmarish tale of a cop-turned-agent for a spooky government agency in the aftermath of 9/11.

As a New Yorker who dealt with 9/11 up close (even though I assiduously avoided the immediate area, the smell was inescapable, and one year after the event I
Julie Christine
I've actively avoided the 9/11 novel. I read a couple in the early years, I can't even tell you which they were (oh, if I thought about it, I'd come up with the titles, but that's not the point) but they pissed me off and so I vowed to make a wide berth around the ouevre. Ian McEwan's chilling and intense Saturday was an exception to my 9/11 Literature Moratorium, yet Saturday took place in London in 2003, tangentially related to the attacks in the United States two years before.

But the others
Tom LA
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As some other reviewes here, I absolutely love Jess Walter and I think he's one of the very best authors around (not only in Spokane, WA... in the world). This book has many layers, and - like other reviewers - I'm afraid I could fully understand these layers only after having read Walter's own comments about the book, or a goodreads review by a reader who attended an event where Walter explained this book. I'm not sure that is a very good thing.

I think the big challenge with novels based on a
Feb 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't imagine there being anyone who doesn't remember where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, when they first became aware that the World Trade Centre had been struck by passenger jets being used as fuel-engorged missiles. I had emerged from my bedroom with one of those scotch hangovers that leave you functioning but sandpapery around the edges and stood there, rubbing my eyes and staring dumbly at a television displaying an eerily quiet shot of the southern tip of Manhattan ...more
May 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This may be perverse, but part of the appeal of this book was in trying to figure out what makes it worthwhile despite seeming to be so ungrounded. As a benchmark for contrast, Walter’s award winner from a few years before, Citizen Vince, was unambiguously good —- and good in a straightforward way. It had a fully fleshed out, likable main character, a colorful supporting cast, and a plot that strode on with cocky assurance. The Zero did not. Brian Remy, in the lead role, was a NY cop in the ...more
Rebecca McNutt
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
At times a clever satire but at its best a poignant novel of a man trying to understand the days after his world shattered, The Zero deals with tragedy in a comedic way while still trying to remain relatively tasteful about it.
Nov 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: america
my review: this book kicked ass.

my top five interesting bits learned from having jess walter come to my form & theory class to discuss "the zero":

1. nicole, the real estate boss, speaks in "bush-ism"s, and the bits you see in the book represent about a 70% reduction in those phrases from what earlier drafts contained

2. wasabi marinated duck = WMD, and zingers = "yellow cake" = enriched plutonium

3. some things in this book sprang from jess's experience as a ghost writer for bernard kerik, who
Aug 01, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: recommended
Many people have been turned off by my description of this book when I recommend it to them. If you want to read a sort of darkly comic noir-ish thriller about a cop who was at Ground Zero and who now may or may not be working for a covert government agency but can't tell because he has all these strange memory gaps, then you will like this book.
J.M. Fraser
Jan 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Political satire isn’t Jess Walter’s strong suit. The characters in this story are cartoonish mayors, police investigators and spies, none of whom are believable. In addition, Walter pokes fun at the post-911 authorities while ignoring that every one of us had become swept up in rampant patriotism and paranoia at the time. Remember being inspired by some of Bush’s overly simplistic speeches? Remember using gloves to open your mail? I suppose by the time Walter wrote this novel, we had all calmed ...more
Sara Habein
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Not in recent memory have I read a book so enthralling, heartbreaking and with such deadpan humor. In what he calls his "9/12" novel, Jess Walter’s The Zero follows "hero cop" Brian Remy, who is trying to make sense of the world while also suffering from memory lapses. His journey is at once bewildering and mournful, and though I’m not one to go on about perfect first lines, Walter had me at the outset:

They burst into the sky, every bird in creation, angry and agitated, awakened by the same
Walter's fever-dream of a novel is unhinged, literally, from the "reality" that America experiences after 9/11, a tragedy never named in this strange disjointed meditation on our national psychology of paranoia and self-obsession in the face of horrible tragedy. The central character and narrator is a NY cop named Brian Remy who is having trouble with "gaps" in his memory, as he stumbles through encounters with a string of characters and incidents that may or may not be what they seem to be. ...more
May 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Survivor types
Recommended to Alan by: Bronwen; Naomi
Guterak looked over. "Hey, you got your hair cut."
"Yeah." Remy put the cap back on.
"What made you do that?"
"I shot myself in the head last night."
"Well." Paul drove quietly for a moment, staring straight ahead. "It looks good."

This is, as it says right there on the back cover, "a novel of September 12th." That on its own should be fair warning. Jess Walter does not shy away from disturbing ground in his 2006 novel The Zero—and so, perforce, neither will this review. Infectiously fragmented;
Jenny Shank
Nov 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
'Zero' sum game
9/11 satire is one of year's best novels

By Jenny Shank, For the Camera
Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Zero by Jess Walter. Regan, 336 pp. $25.95.

This year saw the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the publication of several novels addressing them. Jay McInerney's "The Good Life" took a love-amid-the-ruins approach with its story of an adulterous affair between two volunteers at a Ground Zero soup kitchen. Wendy Wasserstein's posthumous
Nov 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
In the days after 9/11, New York police officer Brian Remy tries to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head, but succeeds only in causing a sort of temporal brain damage, in which he flits in and out of awareness of his own life as though through staccato, disconnected snippets of film. Apparently recruited for some black ops anti-terrorist unit, he sporadically comes to his senses to find that he has gotten involved in some unpleasant and untenable situations – taking mysterious ...more
Kathy Piper
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Sep 05, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Maren Showkeir
Jul 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
Tapping into my intellectual observer, I found much to admire about his writing, the rich and complex way he told the story, and his insight into the experience of a post-terrorism world. His characters were interesting and the wit piercing. The plot twist of the sisters were poignant (though kinda obvious.) Some of the ways he "painted the scenes" with his words were phenomenal.

While his story-telling device was unique and I can see why he chose it, I had a hard time following the story. I'm
Feb 21, 2012 rated it did not like it
This book is just good enough to make people think it's great because it contains so many gaps and twists and many and occasionally clever references to the events of 9/11 and its immediate aftermath to make you feel like there MUST be something IMPORTANT written on its pages, even though you can't figure out exactly what it is. Perhaps it is in the same genre as books by Kafka and Heller (I think closer to Vonnegut than to either), but in terms of quality, it's not in the same ballpark.

Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read Jess Walter's first four books in rapid succession in 2016 and loved them. He instantly became one of my favorite authors, especially after reading his 2 Detective Caroline Mabry novels and Citizen Vince. I don't know why I didn't go on and finish reading the rest of his work that year. There must've been something that distracted me. In any case, I decided to pick up where I left off, and I'm glad I did.

The Zero is the best book I've read so far this year. It's a darkly comic, absurdist
Greg Zimmerman
Apr 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Brian Remy is a New York City cop. He was on the scene when the towers collapsed on 9/11, narrowly escaping himself (even though his son is telling people he died). And Remy has just shot himself in the head — but he can't remember whether he did it on purpose, or accidentally. Indeed, he can't remember much of anything — he sort of "wakes up" between gaps in his memory and has to piece together what he's been up to. Conscious Remy is good, "unconscious," off-the-page Remy is bad.

So the story
Oct 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed Walter's first book (Citizen Vince), so I picked up this, his second, knowing absolutely nothing about it. The story revolves around New York City police officer Brian Remy, who must deal with his newly unstable memory in the weeks after 9/11. It seems that while he physically survived being at Ground Zero, the mental trauma has done all kinds of interesting things to Remy's judgment -- including leading him to possibly shoot himself in the head.

His head injury leads to
Oct 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I just wanted to add some Leonard Cohen; it sets the tone better really than any review could:
And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time...
Who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger...
And who shall I say is calling?
...and who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror...
and who
shall I say
is calling?

I read a review of this book, put it on reserve in the library; months later, there it is, I don't have a clue.

So I
Sep 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
I'm intrigued. I began reading this last night, and it is described as a dark, comic satire on 9/11. The other book I read by Jess Walter, "The Financial Lives of the Poets," was very sweet -- funny, poignant, well-written. It reminded me of Nick Hornby and Tom Perotta, but a bit deeper. So, I'm intrigued by this book because it's definitely much darker. And it's a thriller. Different genre, very different tone. And so far so good...


Eh. It's hard to say what I thought of this book. I finished
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brian Remy starts having gaps in his short term memory after 9/11; he was present at ground zero that morning but can't remember any details other than all the falling paper and the vast silence. Based on his years of service as a cop he is asked to join a secret intellence agency tasked w/ understanding a few mysterious events of that day. As Remy gets deeper into the investigation, he finds himself living two lives - the one he can remember and the more violent and destructive one he can't.

Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a good book with some problems, admittedly. It contains passages that are fantastic and really display Walter's talent as a writer and dialogue that shows his talent for creating memorable characters. Even passages which the reader will likely not remember or pay too much attention to do an excellent job of dropping the reader (and Remy) into the middle of a scene and almost visually drawing the setting around the character. These are its strengths, and it makes it a fast, immersive, and ...more
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Jess Walter is from Washington State, so it goes without saying that he's a genius. This book came to my attention because the hilarious author Nick Hornby has declared Walter to be an extraordinary and gifted talent. I agree, as I do with most everything Nick Hornby utters. This is one of those books that I wasn't sure I liked when I was 20 pages into it. Then I blinked once and was somehow 100 pages in, hooked, and the story was coming together nicely. The story jumps around constantly because ...more
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pacific-u-mfa
This is the first Walters book I have read, but it won’t be the last. He said in his craft talk that The Zero is his favorite, and I can see why. It is ambitious and risky in so many ways: stylistically (the satire is both searingly funny and sad because it illuminated how screwed up our culture is), structurally (the way the protagonist’s memory has been scarred his mirrored in the way the narrative jumps around and is abruptly cut off), and topically (Walters tackles one of the most sacred ...more
Matt Glaviano
Although I have two more to go, I don’t expect to read a better 9/11 (or, as Walter calls it, a “9/12”) novel soon. Deeply indebted to Vonnegut and Kafka, this novel surpasses anything I expected from Walter after reading Citizen Vince. An amazingly well told broken down narrative, chock full of humor and amazing writing. Because his novel is broken, because his hero is lost, Walter has captured something so fundamental about post-9/11 culture that it’s fascinating and, at times, hard to bear. ...more
Chrystal Hays
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is brilliant.
I'm sensitive to the whole 9/11 thing, and have not been able to really enjoy much fiction or art based on that horrific event. Mark Helprin's story, "Monday", has been the only exception until now.

The Zero will be compared with Catch-22 by Heller, with the work of Kafka, and also with Kosinski's Being There...all for good reason. This was one I could not put down. This perfect blend of pathos, irony, dark humor, and absurdity addresses the most serious subjects
Sep 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
a disappointment. some interesting descriptions and insights into the dominant narrative after 9/11 -- an onslought of superficial responses that distract people from looking inward and outward, preventing people from the difficult process of grieving... a narrative based on false patriotism, fear of the other, denial of the complexity of the human condition, oversimplifications of just about everything. But the author uses "..." way too much, thinking he is perhaps letting the reader imagine ...more
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Jess Walter is the author of five novels and one nonfiction book. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his essays, short fiction, criticism and journalism have been widely published, in Details, Playboy, Newsweek, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe among many others.

Walter also writes screenplays and was the co-author of Christopher Darden’s 1996
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“Maybe every couple lived in the gaps between conversations, unable to say the important things for fear they had already been said, or couldn't be said; maybe every relationship started over every time two people came together.” 13 likes
“She saw death as just another wedding she wasn't invited to.” 7 likes
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