November 7, 2011

Zone One by Colson Whitehead (audiobook): Review

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Thankfully an audiobook version of Zone One by Colson Whitehead, a post-apocalyptic zombie novel, does not involve sound effects of brains being munched. Actually I'm not sure if brains were partaken of. Fingers, yes.

Anyway...

Mark Spitz (not his real name, obviously) admits to being mediocre. He was mediocre in school, at work, and in life. He neither excelled nor failed. That all changed on Last Night. Last Night was the last night life was normal. That night every survivor had an experience that sent them running. A virus spread all over the world, turning it's victims into flesh-eating corpses. People either became the Dead or survived to live until the Dead caught up with them. Mark Spitz found that he excelled at one thing: surviving. The Dead might have caught up with many people, but not him.

Years after Last Night, Mark Spitz works as part of a clean up crew. He and his partners find the Stragglers, Skels (zombies) who for some peculiar reason are stuck in an ordinary scene of their lives, completely motionless. Mark Spitz has his theories. For now he tags them and bags them, as the new government works to clean up New York City, returning it to its former glory. It's part of a new optimistic outlook on the post-apocalyptic world. But can life ever go back to the way it was? Will it ever be over? Mark Spitz sees the danger in thinking too far ahead. Looking ahead can get you killed.

My very first Colson Whitehead and it involved zombies. Of course this isn't your garden variety zombie story. Even without trying I knew this was and wasn't about zombies. How many people now these moments of "before" and "after"? September 11, Hurricane Katrina, wars, tsunamis. It's the same for the people of Zone One. They remember the details of the moment their lives went from normal to what it is now. Echoes of these modern disasters are sprinkled throughout the novel. Things that made me go "hmmm..., what is he really saying here?" It's smart and at times satiric. The new government spouts nonsense mottos, hands out 'no-no cards', and enters into questionable agreements with industries.

Mark Spitz is an Everyman. He's average in every way, middle class and a bit of a slacker, exceptional in only that he is good at survival. Maybe the reason he's still alive has a lot to do with luck but he's also good at sizing up a situation. I liked Mark Spitz despite himself. He's stand offish and sarcastic. (What is his problem with Connecticut anyway?)

Then there's the Skels, particularly the Stragglers. Why are they still? Are they waiting for something? There is something disturbing about how the survivors pick off these seemingly harmless victims of the virus. But what else are they to do with them?

Zone One wasn't always easy to follow as it flickered in and out of the present time, to Mark's past before and after Last Night. It requires patience since a name or incident will be mentioned casually and it could be awhile before the reader finds out the significance of that scene or an explanation given. It's worth it though. It takes some time but the tension builds to an interesting conclusion. I hope Mark Spitz is still out there, making it through.

I highly recommend Zone One for anyone looking for a smart post-apocalyptic story.

About the Audio: Zone One is read by Beresford Bennett. He has a deep, masculine voice. All the men sound like butt-kickers but the ladies end up sounding like Marilyn Monroe with breathy voices. It's kinda funny.

Ratings:

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4 comments :

  1. I started this one last week and then switched to another book. It didn't immediately grab me and I was distracted by some other things, but I am going to try again this week.

    I read Whitehead's The Intuitionist and it was hard to follow but very unique.

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  2. I would tooootally read this. Sounds literary enough to make ye olde zombie tale interesting. And I see shades of The Passage when I read reviews of it.

    Looking forward to it!

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  3. I have this one close at hand, but I haven't actually read anything of his yet. I did, however, hear him speak at an author's festival last month and he was absolutely hilarious. His presentation and delivery pretty much landed everything he's written on my TBR list, zombies or otherwise!

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  4. I have been seeing this around and it sounds worthwhile. Good review!

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