Kerfe's Reviews > The Zero

The Zero by Jess Walter
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's review
Oct 05, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 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 really didn't expect, even with a title like "The Zero", to find myself in another 9/11 book, or to find myself so merged into Brian Remy's disconnect with the world. His broken perceptions got into my head; the result was both eerie and disquieting.

The first 2/3 of the book is like the world of a Leonard Cohen song: "First We Take Manhattan", "Who By Fire", "Dress Rehearsal Rag", "Everybody Knows"...keep going down the list and take your pick.

It's a zero-sum game, as one of the more enigmatic characters observes late in the book. Full of loss and longing, Remy inhabits a world with no winners and no way to tell right from wrong; of aching and inevitable beauty and sadness; cynical, yet not bitter. Vision is never more than partial; memories are deceptive, fleeting and false. There are no directions, no maps; the meaning is always cryptic and just out of reach.

Which is why the last 1/3, where the ends get semi-tied and the narrative becomes more linear and starts to make some sense, was such a disappointment to me. Of course, I do have my troubles with the ways authors end their books.

But despite my unhappiness with Part Three, it contained one of the book's most memorable scenes, one I still think a lot about.

Remy returns to Ground Zero and finds an alien place, one that no longer contains his memories and feelings. The construction site is " any other place now, like the site of a future business park, or a mall parking lot."

He thinks of Gettysburg, the bones of the dead merging with the soil, the "gristle and bravery" making it Holy, a true memorial.

At The Zero he finds...nothing. "They scraped it all away...what's left of a place when you take the ground all away? Is the place even there anymore?"

Really: what does another large ugly office building prove to those that hate our materialism and vulgarity?

Suppose we could have put money and political posturing aside and let it be, let time, not commerce and competing agendas, be the arbiter of what remained?

An idea I never considered, but it will now always accompany my jumble of thoughts about that time and space.
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