mark monday's Reviews > Zone One

Zone One by Colson Whitehead
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Sep 29, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: unstablenarratives, horrortime, unicorn, super-private-journal


mark monday got up at his usual hour, in his usual bed, and after leisurely winding his way through his various morning routines, made his way to work, to perform his usual functions. it was a friday, a day where most of his colleagues found reasons to be elsewhere - appointments and such - and so this was mark's favorite work day to be in the office. the lack of potential irritation meant more work could be accomplished. on some level, he realized that this was perhaps a rather uncharitable perspective, and so he actively tried to create positive, supportive relationships with his colleagues to balance out these misanthropic tendencies. mark accomplished his various pre-set work goals to varying degrees of satisfaction. when faced with an annoying email or an unpleasant task, he would sometimes pause to remind himself that he "liked" his job, it was surely an important one, one that could be seen to help many needy people, one that was mandated by the government, one that afforded him a certain level of both personal self-esteem and public influence. it was an administrative position.

after work, mark went with his boss to a community forum at city hall on federal health care reform (scheduled, unpleasantly enough, on a friday evening). he used this forum as a reason to avoid attendance at both a going-away party for a co-worker (he was never too partial to that colleague's whininess) and a night out of dinner & drinks with a former best friend from san diego (too many buried resentments that could now, happily, go unearthed). the individuals on the forum's panel said their various rote statements and everyone performed their necessary functions in their role that evening. afterwards, mark monday went home and started reading Zone One by Colson Whitehead.

the novel takes place after a zombie apocalypse, as the world attempts to rebuild itself. the protagonist, Mark Spitz, is a member of Omega Unit, which is one of many civilian units charged with the clean-up of nyc, moving street by street and building by building to find and dispose of any remaining stragglers not wiped out by prior military incursions. zombies come in two forms: 99% are "skels", your basic ravening zombie, hungry for flesh; 1% are "stragglers", a revenant that is usually harmless, found hovering aimlessly in places that once held meaning for them. their office; their usual restaurant; the elevator where they spontaneously proposed marriage; the field where they flew their first kite. stragglers cling to their old lives, their old roles, they remain somehow connected to what once personally defined them. Mark Spitz finds this haunting of old places to be both sad and predictable. he muses constantly on the roles that people give themselves, the way that they define themselves, the places they give value and the meaning of that value. mark monday found these ruminations to be interesting but rather missed the excitement of an old fashioned tale of zombies running amuck. he wasn't sure that this was the book that he wanted to read at 1:30 in the morning on a friday night. still, he stuck with it. as Mark Spitz pondered the meaning behind humanity's self-built mouse mazes and humankind's need to adopt roles that give them purpose, mark monday idly reflected on the rather ineffable sadness of those roles - as if they could somehow give a person genuinely deep satisfaction, as if mankind wasn't actually composed of players in a play that has been long written, as if that play won't simply be played again and again, with different players, an updated script.

at the end of the novel's first part (entitled "Friday"), Mark Spitz bunks down with his Omega Unit partners, broods on his empty and mediocre pre-zombie apocalypse existence, and goes to sleep. mark monday finished the chapter, desultorily jacked off to a fantasy template, and went to sleep.


mark slept in, per usual on a Saturday, had his usual food and put on his usual attire, and went to the park. it was a reasonably nice day for san francisco and the park was full of people doing their usual thing. enjoying the weather, talking, laughing, reading, sleeping, working on their laptops and talking on their cell phones. mark did the same. he made a few phone calls and so enacted his various roles as son, brother, friend, former lover, and/or support system. he read Zone One from time to time, where Mark walked down his memory's corridors: an unfulfilling life of mediocrity, his parents already turned zombie pre-zombie apocalypse, then running from the onslaught of the undead, surviving, finding other survivors and yet never connecting with them, always erecting barriers to hide himself, never feeling, rarely loving, a life on the run much like his former life standing in place, in safety. mark found himself growing bored and then frustrated with Mark's navel-gazing. it was perhaps the wrong book to bring to the park, too mordant, too contemplative, too jaded about the guises that humans adopt to comfort themselves, to make themselves feel whole. mark started feeling contempt towards Mark. he began to grow bored with his company. he began to wonder why literary author Colson Whitehead would bother writing a genre novel if all he was going to do was put his various tedious digressions to page, if he wasn't going to bother with an exciting narrative, if all he thought about humanity could be summarized in two words: eternal emptiness. such a person could be convicted on pretentiousness alone, thought mark. it is as if he is holding himself hostage to his own inner void.

back at home, mark monday contemplated what he would do for the evening. there was a dinner party that his old high school friends were having, but the idea of yet again being the life of the party, the person who made salty comments and saucy innuendos, their funny strange idiosyncratic friend... well, the idea of that role fatigued him. he could call up his "real friends" (that was the role in which he had cast them), try to do something fun he supposed, some drinking, some talking about the various challenges of being a teacher/ lawyer/ carpenter/ social worker/ mother/ father/ husband/ wife, some gossip about who said what to whom and why... but in the end, that felt rather like work. there was also a benefit that a sister agency was having, it would be good to be seen there, to hobnob amongst his peers, to blather some bullshit with politicians and stakeholders, to talk about his job and the importance of this or that piece of legislation... but he quickly rejected that off-hand: he'd play that role on monday, this was his weekend. so instead he chose to do what he often preferred to do in general these days: he stayed at home and read, free of troublesome engagement, free of the need to perform certain functions in the usual way, with the usual people.

in Zone One, Mark Spitz and his colleagues holed up in various locations and discussed their different paths in life, how those paths led them to where they were now. Mark contemplated the connection he had to his unit and the inevitability of that connection coming to a close. he did not feel sadness. he did not feel happiness. he did not feel anger. he did not feel regret. was he some form of "straggler"? mark monday felt a flash of sympathy, empathy even, at the idea of Mark Spitz's feelings of hollowness, his self-designation as a person of mediocrity. Mark was a kind of zombie himself, mark supposed. perhaps everyone was a kind of zombie. perhaps lack of affect, constant anomie, a relentless repetition of meaningless form and ritual were hallmarks of all kinds of humanity, both living and undead. mark wondered, is that a deep thought? deep thoughts annoyed him, and he quickly dismissed it. Colson Whitehead was proving to be a somewhat aggravating author and mark dismissed him as well. just a few more pages and then to bed, i'll finish this crap tomorrow, thought mark.

in the last few pages of the second part of the novel (entitled "Saturday"), Mark Spitz drinks both in the present time and in flashback, as he enjoys some R&R and contemplates his now-dead former supervisor. what role did that lieutenant fill in his own life; what lack of satisfaction drove him to his final actions? Mark shed no tears. mark had a whiskey ('Here's To You, Mark!'), shed no tears, went to bed, and remembered none of his dreams.


mark woke up unusually early and read the final part of Zone One (entitled "Sunday"). destruction, death, and dangerous disarray riddled the final pages, and yet it was not a travelogue of horror but rather a guide to the hazards of connection and the importance of exit plans that can extract a person from unhealthy human and inhuman attachments. Mark Spitz realizes that as a mediocre person, he is ideally suited to surviving the zombie apocalypse. he 'does his best' for his colleagues, but there is little to do. he reflects on the transitory nature of all relationships as he thinks of the people in his life who have disappeared, of a makeshift family in which he was briefly a part, before it was torn asunder. he remembers that last person he loved, now gone from him forever, and was that really even love? Mark then runs.

mark closed the book and thought about how he would write that book's review. then he dressed in his usual clothes, went for his usual walk, stopped at his usual bookstore, and shopped at his usual grocery store. he went home and made some phone calls, enacting his usual roles, this time as friend to one and son to another. he answered a text message notifying him of an acquaintance's accident with the rotely sympathetic language of a typical 'sensitive human male'. he watched an episode of Breaking Bad, and wondered at how Mr. White got himself into such a situation, contemplated the chain of events that had led the character to his new role in life. he watched the premiere of Dexter, gained some pleasure at watching Dex enact his role as bloody avenger, and grew annoyed at the character's insistence that he was a person without affect. oh please, mark thought, that's bullshit. i have as much affect as Dexter, and i'm no serial killer. mark reviewed his work calendar in advance of tomorrow's work role and wrote a navel-gazing review, per usual. mark brushed his teeth and then went to sleep.
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Reading Progress

September 29, 2011 – Started Reading
September 29, 2011 – Shelved
Finished Reading
April 11, 2012 – Shelved as: unstablenarratives
July 27, 2012 – Shelved as: horrortime
July 16, 2013 – Shelved as: unicorn
October 27, 2013 – Shelved as: super-private-journal

Comments (showing 1-35 of 35) (35 new)

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message 1: by Donna (new)

Donna I like a good plague story ever since that British TV-series 'The Survivors'. THe end of civilization stuck them with some ghastly 70's clothes. Very arty cover for a plague book.

Mark Spitz?

mark monday it's a very arty book! i will try to make my review similarly arty.

Mark Spitz is a nickname the narrator picked up along the way, for spoiler-ish reasons.

Francine 5 stars for your review (but I personally gave this book a 1 star)!

mark monday thanks Francine! this book originally scored much lower for me (i think i gave it 2 stars). i was really aggravated by the determinist stance and the rather condescending perspective towards, oh, all of humanity. but in the end, it did inspire me to think a whole lot about life and how we live it - which is a rare experience for me and is something i like to reward when it happens. and i also can't deny that the writing itself, sentence by sentence, is pretty top-drawer. the author may or may not be a pretentious nihilist, but he has some writing chops for sure.

message 5: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye Yet again, one of your reviews makes me want to read all of your books by the time I turn 60. Make that 70. That will give you another ten years' writing time. Besides I want to see what you write about "Catcher in the Rye" at age 50.

Perhaps, we all need to find some time away from GR to do some fiction of our own.

Oops, I turn to your writings page and discover that it it already there. I start to read it. I shall return. It was hard to come back and finish this post.

mark monday well gosh, thank you Ian! very nice words.

those stories are mostly ones i wrote well over a decade ago, maybe even longer - in my early & mid 20s. i had forgotten all about them and just recently found hard copies of them this year at the bottom of a box (imagine, a time when folks used to write with pen & paper!) and decided to just type them up here on GR, as sort of a convenient e-place to hold them. they kind of mortify/embarrass me - but i also love them as long-lost children! they also are there to remind me of my old ambition to write, write, write. sigh, maybe some day.

Maciek Wow Mark, you did enjoy this book, and I enjoyed your review. Nice one! I found it more compelling that the book itself.

mark monday glad you liked it Mace, and i enjoyed your review as well. the book is definitely divisive. i agree with your review's point regarding the mundanity of it all.

Maciek Thanks, Mark. I've no idea if it was intentional, but it sure is weird in a novel of this type. Was it a satire, like the Monty Python's philosopher soccer? Who knows.

message 10: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday I had to look him up! and was duly delighted. have never read Pratchett.

message 11: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira I know this makes me a curmudgeon, but I am so finished with zombies, werewolves, and vampires. I admire your stamina, Mark!

message 12: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday we all have our first loves! and so it is with me and the supernatural

message 13: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira mark wrote: "we all have our first loves! and so it is with me and the supernatural"

I know I am being unreasonable, as I still like ghosts and what is more hackneyed than a spirit in the attic?

message 14: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday as far as I am concerned, I think the question should be, what is more delightful than a spirit in the attic! I love the classic templates

CallMeIshmael Did you know that nothing inspires me to read a review on this site LESS than a cutesy vehicle inspired by the form of the book being reviewed?

message 16: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday CallMeIshmael wrote: "Did you know that nothing inspires me to read a review on this site LESS than a cutesy vehicle inspired by the form of the book being reviewed?"

Did you know that there are few things LESS interesting than the trollish comments of yet another unpleasant, petty person on the internet who feels the need to share their meaningless little thoughts as if I gave a shit?

message 17: by [Name Redacted] (new)

[Name Redacted] For my part, i now feel like reading this book out of spite!

message 18: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday my cutesy vehicle of a review has motivated you! that's not spite, that's Cutesy Vehicle Inspiration™!

Trudi I love a Vehicle that is both Cutesy and Inspirational! (never stop navel gazing mark or channeling your inner rainman or sharing your super private journal -- we're all the richer for it).

message 20: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thank you! I am definitely in favor of multi-functional vehicles. clearly Ishmael prefers mono-terrain vehicles that are are also unattractive and uninspiring. poor Ishmael, he must only feel comfortable on straight and narrow roads! what a life. :(

Maciek mark wrote: "thank you! I am definitely in favor of multi-functional vehicles. clearly Ishmael prefers mono-terrain vehicles that are are also unattractive and uninspiring. poor Ishmael, he must only feel comfortable on straight and narrow roads! what a life. :(

Well Mark, how would you feel if you were chasing down an enormous white whale all your life? No wonder poor Ishmael needs some comfort!

Trudi Ha! :)

message 23: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday the poor guy just needs a comforting hug, and maybe a new purpose in life? perhaps trolling book review threads provides just such a purpose! well I am glad to be of service to the poor fellow.

message 24: by Andi (new) - rated it 4 stars

Andi I've been on the fence forever, read or not read? I came across your fabulous review and I'm going to check it out, your very clever review rocks and I can't wait to start this one!

message 25: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thank you very much, Andi. good luck with the book and Happy New Year to you!

message 26: by kaufmasks (new)

kaufmasks i leik eggs (T ▽ T)

message 27: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday eggs are definitely Top Ten.

message 28: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Porcaro I haven't read all the comments above, but if it hasn't already been said, I'd like to add that I'm pretty sure I enjoyed your review more than the actual book itself. :-)

message 29: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thanks John! this is one of my favorite reviews.

a worthy book in its own way, but I can see why it would be a disappointing read. I don't think it really belongs on that list you mention in your review.

message 30: by Erica (new) - added it

Erica I'd like to paraphrase what John Porcaro said (had I already read the book - I haven't, not yet, but I will, thanks to your review - I wouldn't have had to rephrase at all, I'm sure): your review was at least as enjoyable as you made the book itself sound!

message 31: by mark (last edited Feb 16, 2018 10:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thank you very much, Erica! the book is thoughtful, interesting and beautifully written; I hope you have a good experience with it. just make sure to manage any expectations of reading Zombie Apocalypse Excitement, because those pleasures will not be forthcoming in this book.

message 32: by Gavin (new) - added it

Gavin Boone Your review definitely makes me want to read this. You should be a professional reviewer, this one alone is one of the best I've ever seen.

message 33: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday and thank you for your kind words, Gavin. much appreciated. although I can't imagine what magazine, online or otherwise, would want to print something as self-absorbed as this so-called review!

message 34: by Gavin (new) - added it

Gavin Boone For me as a writer, that's why your review is gold. You sound like you're a character in real life, and clearly, your passion is what drives your words. It strikes me as good, authentic fiction- or a story I should say.
And yes it seems professional reviewers aren't exactly singing the birds out of the trees these days, but all the more reason for you to be a successful reviewer in whatever capacity. Plainly said: your reviews are better than professional ones.

message 35: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday wow! you have made my day, Gavin. thank you!

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