Kemper's Reviews > Zone One

Zone One by Colson Whitehead
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, apocalypse-now, horror, modern-lit, zombies

When the zombie apocalypse comes there’ll be a lot of inconveniences. The breakdown of society, lack of electrical power, no hot showers and undead cannibals trying to eat your brains will definitely suck, but I always figured that the trade-off was that at least there’d be no more paying bills, standing in line at the DMV or having to tolerate corporate buzz words and slogans.

But in Zone One not only are there plenty of zombies, there’s still silly bureaucratic rules and paperwork as well as a government more concerned with public perception than in actually accomplishing anything. It’s like the worst of everything.

Mark Spitz (a nickname explained late in the book) was completely average and his only real talent seemed to be a knack for coasting through life with a minimum of fuss. Once the zombie apocalypse comes, Mark Spitz’s ability to get by served him well and allowed him to escape the initial zombie outbreak and survive in the aftermath.

Now Mark Spitz is one of the sweepers assigned to clean-up Manhattan. The surviving government in Buffalo sent the Marines through to kill the most vicious zombies, but there’s a remaining element of ‘stragglers’, about 1% of the undead who just return to old homes or jobs and seem vapor locked there as they mindlessly watch blank tv screens or punch buttons on dead copy machines.

Buffalo has rebranded the refugee camps of survivors with names like Happy Acres and has a plan to clear and repopulate New York. As Mark Spitz spends his days popping and dropping stragglers, he reflects on his aimless days before the zombie outbreak on Last Night and his time as a wandering refugee before he was found by Buffalo’s army.

This is the first book I’m aware of that tries to do the zombie genre as Very Serious Literature. (No, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies doesn’t count.) Overall, it succeeds remarkably well. Mark Spitz’s reflections on pre and post zombie life are intriguing and his melancholy drifting through his days cleaning out Manhattan have the feel of a guy eulogizing an entire world. My only complaint is that the memories and current events sometimes get so tangled that it made it a tad confusing at times to figure out where we were in the story of Mark Spitz.

On the zombie front, Whitehead delivers some tense and horrific action in the encounters with the undead. (In fact, Whitehead delivered more zombie fightin’ action and detailed descriptions of the walking dead in 240 pages than Mira Grant has in her two 500+ page horror genre novels. Read this and take notes, Mira.)

I especially liked the idea that the government in Buffalo has started doing asinine things like issuing orders against the sweepers doing more property damage than necessary while clearing buildings and prohibiting looting while also issuing pamphlets about the dangers of zombie post-traumatic stress disorder. It seems kind of insane at first but after thinking about it a while, I came to the conclusion that it was highly likely that the political image consultants and corporate marketing whizzes would probably, like cockroaches, be the ones to survive a zombie apocalypse and promptly start trying to rebuild the world the only way they know how, conning people into doing shit even if it flies in the face of common sense.

Great book that elevates the entire horror genre. It doesn’t take the #1 spot from my favorite zombie novel, World War Z but I think it’s got a lock on the #2 spot for now.
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Reading Progress

October 31, 2011 – Started Reading
October 31, 2011 – Shelved
November 4, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Nice.

You might dig Raising Stony Mayhall, which is the other More Serious take on the zombie novel I can think of. More avowedly in the genre, it reorders the zombie novel through alt-history, which is so cool.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

No, that's where the capital is now - fuck Albany!! - the book is mostly set in a small section of Manhattan.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

They do have their delicious wings to keep them warm until the zombies reanimate.


message 4: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 04, 2011 06:34PM) (new)

I'm reasonably sure it's Leafs.


Trudi How the hell did I miss this one? Sounds awesome. You'll definitely want to check out The Reapers Are the Angels; that's about as "literary" as zombies get (without involving Jane Austen). Great review Kemper.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Go Leafs!


Kemper This is one of those delightful Goodreads comment threads which has caused everything to become jumbled in my head and now all I can think of is a zombie hockey team. "They can't skate for shit, but they can sure take a lot of punishment!"

Thanks for the tips on the other books, too. I'll try to check those out.


Stephanie *Extremely Stable Genius* Buffalo would be the perfect place for a new Capitol, could imagine zombies trying to amble through three feet of snow? Or stay up right on ice? A safe place for at least 4 months out of the year.


Stephanie *Extremely Stable Genius* Bird Brian wrote: "Stephanie wrote: "A safe place for at least 4 months out of the year."

More than that! An old Buffalo joke:
Q- What's a Buffalo summer like?
A- Six weeks of lousy ice skating.

Actually, we..."


I know Brian, I lived in Depew and managed the art operations at Darien Lake for three years. Where about do you live in Buffalo? West Seneca, Cheektawoga, Tanawanda....? Where ever it is, it's just down the Transit I'm sure.


message 10: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink "When the zombie apocalypse comes there’ll be a lot of inconveniences. The breakdown of society, lack of electrical power, no hot showers, and undead cannibals trying to eat your brains will definitely suck".....

ha good one Kemper, although that is kind of like now when I can't pay the bills. Your reviews are swaying me back to the zombie shelves. :)


message 11: by [Name Redacted] (new)

[Name Redacted] Oh great. Now I'm going to have Darien Lake flashbacks. It and SeaBreeze.


Stephanie *Extremely Stable Genius* If you had your face drawn in any manor....it could have been me.


message 13: by James (new)

James Thane Personally, I'm hoping that the zombie apocalypse doesn't come at least until I am caught up watching "Boardwalk Empire" and have a chance to see season three of "Justified." However, as far as I'm concerned, it's okay if it comes before season two of "The Killing" arrives.


Kemper James wrote: "Personally, I'm hoping that the zombie apocalypse doesn't come at least until I am caught up watching "Boardwalk Empire" and have a chance to see season three of "Justified." However, as far as I'm..."

I'm just hoping that I get to see the movie adaptation of World War Z before the actual zombie apocalypse starts...


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm hoping the zombie apocalypse starts *before* the film adaption of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies gets made.


Kemper Finzy wrote: "What can I say, a very good review my dear sir."

Thanks!


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