In Zone One by Colson Whitehead we spend three days in the life of Mark Spitz, as he and his team clear out Zone One, a.k.a. what used to be Manhattan. We’re in the cleanup phase of a zombie apocalypse and the only thing holding them back is a wall as the remaining military and volunteers try to establish a base to start civilization again.
Zone One was the final read of a trinity (HA!) of books I had a hard time choosing between a few months back. But unlike the other two that grabbed my attention right from the start, I came very close to giving up on this book. Here are some quotes that had me scratching my head and wrinkling my brow:
“Never in human history had so many delighted in removing a bit of kernel from between canines and biscupids.” – pg. 35
“A building like 135 Duane, with its panoply of enterprises, had its idiosyncrasies but nonetheless conformed to the prevailing narrative.” – pg. 33-34
“He scowled at the mail on the hall credenza, speculating anew over what misbegotten opt-in had birthed, among other bastards, his identification as a member of the opposite political party.” – pg. 69
If you’ve read the quotes above from Zone One, hopefully I wasn’t the only one who was thinking: Whaaatt??? I mean, was it that hard to write “removing a bit of kernel from between his teeth”? Are we trying to reach a word quota?
But after an encouraging tweet I pressed on. It did get better. I don’t know if I just got used to the writing or maybe the writing settled down. It felt like the first one hundred pages tried to cram a lot of information in at once. At the time it frustrated me. Especially when there was an interruption of a great zombie attack for a flash back! I was livid! Why would you interrupt a zombie attack! But I started to get used to the flashbacks and a flashforward scene.
After finishing, I thought back and could see how the book reflects the character’s journey; a life of constant fighting and moving from one place to another, never staying in one place for too long, always on the alert in order to survive. It would be confusing and frustrating like the first part of the book. Then it settles down, the character is rescued and volunteers to help rebuild, there’s a sense of stability; the second part, the part where the reading felt like it had settled down for me. Then the third part turns into a full blown zombie action event that’s intense and frightening. And this book just happens to be divided into three sections, events happening through the course of three days. Wow, can I analyze a book or what? (No, not really, I’m sure.)
I don’t read much literary stuff (and if you couldn’t tell already, my professional use of “stuff” should have given it away). My genre snobbishness getting over itself is probably what helped me to really enjoy this book. Those first 100 pages were the groan inducing pages for me but once I got past them I found myself addicted and surprisingly involved and actually caring about a character who had been described as mediocre; someone who had been incredibly lucky to survive the breakdown of society until what was left of the government began to pick up the pieces and rebuild. But someone able to survive the horrors described must be more than mediocre and when you realize that you begin to care what happens to Mark Spitz (a nickname that is revealed in the book).
So, slow start but it picks up when it needs to and you can’t put this book down. I recommend it.