Thursday, March 8, 2012

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead is the author of a book I consider to be greatly overlooked, Apex Hides the Hurt. Although I enjoyed that book a lot (read in 2008, before this blog), I hadn't read anything else of his until this one. And I read Zone One as much for the hype surrounding it as I did the fact Whitehead wrote it.

Zone One takes place in the near future, like possibly tomorrow. A virus has swept the world causing people to turn into flesh-eating zombies. The government has supposedly reestablished itself in Buffalo, New York and it has turned its efforts to restoring life as it once was beginning in New York City.

The section that is being restored is called Zone One. The military has been through there and wiped out most of the zombies. A fortified camp has been set up in Manhattan (Camp Wonton in Chinatown) and militia-style groups of survivors have been sent out to eliminate stragglers (sweepers). For some reason, some people, when infected by the virus, track down places of importance to them and just hang out there, wasting away, rather than looking for humans to eat.

Mark Spitz, the main character of the book, is part of one of these straggler hunting teams. Spitz is a self-described average person whose mediocrity somehow aids in his ability to survive, mostly in his ability to aimlessly move through life. As the story unfolds, we learn about Last Night, when the virus struck the world, and Spitz's story of survival on the run from zombies. We learn about the government's restoration efforts (the American Phoenix) and how much life has changed in the aftermath. People suffer from Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder. Corn is grown as the first efforts to restore agriculture. Juice boxes are a big trade commodity. The reconstruction efforts happen thanks to corporate sponsorship. All of this takes place over three days but is filled with flashback after flashback.

At times you can read this and see it as a bit of a satire on the world around us. It has its moments where it feels that way. Mostly it's just a well-spun zombie tale. There are times where I think Whitehead goes a little overboard with his descriptions and language. There are numerous sentences where it feels like he just thought of the sentence while he was brushing his teeth or something and thought he'd find a way to get in there somehow. These little outbursts of description can detract from the story at times, a story which also starts rather slowly and ends rather quickly (but appropriately).

It was another solid book by Whitehead. I have to read some more of him and definitely recommend Apex Hides the Hurt, a more obvious satire.

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