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Zone One: A Novel [Hardcover]

Colson Whitehead
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Review

PRAISE FOR ZONE ONE:
 
"THE BEST BOOK OF THE FALL...provides the chilling, fleshy pleasures of zombies who lurch, pursue, hunger...while brilliantly reformulating an old-hat genre."
--Esquire

“If you’re going to break down and read a zombie novel, make it this one.”
--The Wall Street Journal

[Whitehead] takes the genre of horror fiction, mines both its sense of humor and self-seriousness, and emerges with a brilliant allegory of New York living.”
-- New York Observer

"A zombie story with brains...Readers who wouldn't ordinarily creep into a novel festooned with putrid flesh might be lured by this certifiably hip writer who can spine gore into macabre poetry...Everything comes to life in this perfectly paced, horrific, 40-page finale shot through with grim comedy and desolate wisdom about the modern age in all its poisonous, contaminating rage. It's a remarkable episode, but elevated by the power of Whitehead's prose to the level of those other ash-covered nightmares imagined by T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cormac MacCarthy.
--Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Whitehead writes with a sharp, descriptive power, reeling off one pithy observation after the next in a way that invests this post-apocalyptic world with a surprisingly tactile presence.”
--The Associated Press
 
“Whitehead, himself a New Yorker, writes about Spitz’s travails in the brooding, vertical metropolis with a dark poetry, which makes this harrowing tale not just a juicy experiment in genre fiction but a brilliantly disguised meditation on a “flatlined culture” in need of its own rejuvenating psychic jolt.”
--The Seattle Times

"Highbrow novelist Colson Whitehead plunges into the unstoppable zombie genre in this subtle meditation on loss and love in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, which has become the city that never dies."
--USA Today

"For-real literary -- gory, lyrical, human, precise."
--GQ

"A satirist so playful that you often don't even feel his scalpel, Whitehead toys with the shards of contemporary culture with an infectious glee. Here he upends the tropes of the zombie story in the canyons of lower Manhattan. Horror has rarely been so unsettling, and never so grimly funny."
--The Daily Beast

"Whitehead's uncommonly assured style and his observational gifts make the book a pleasure to read."
--Newsweek

"Whitehead writes with economy, texture and punch. He has a talent for sardonic aphorism and an ear for phonetic intrigue...[Zone One] is a cool, thoughtful and, for all its ludic violence, strangely tender novel, a celebration of modernity and a pre-emptive wake for its demise."
--Glen Duncan, for The New York Times Book Review

“As much as Whitehead was inspired by and occasionally references the ‘70s disaster movies that share DNA with Zone One, it’s his remarkable turns of phrase that lift the story above the gory rublle of a midday matinee. Whether charged with bleak sadness or bone-dry humor, sentences worth savoring pile up faster than the body count.”
--Los Angeles Times
 
Zone One takes in all the classic tropes of the zombie novel and blends them to create a novel both melancholy and feverishly exciting, one that is as much about our past and our present as any possible future.”
--Salon.com
 
“Whitehead writes in cinematic images, with a lucid command of language, a knack for comic invention and a blithe freedom.”
--The Kansas City Star
 
Zone One is an off-kilter love letter to a post-apocalypse Manhattan. It’s loaded with gallows survivor humor and absolutely stunning descriptions.”
--The Times-Picayune


“Cinematic in scope and nimble in its use of hard-core gore, [Zone One] is an absorbing read, crammed with thoughtful snapshots of the world the survivors have left behind…a sharp commentary on the rat race of contemporary life.”
--Houston Chronicle

"Colson Whitehead's ZONE ONE isn't your typical zombie novel; it trades fright-night fodder for empathy and chilling realism...yielding a haunting portrait of a lonely, desolate, and uncertain city."
--Elle

“A great read that’s snarky, scary, and profound.”--Parade

"Zone One is a smart, strange, engrossing novel about the end of metaphors and the way that, as Mark Spitz knows all to well, no barrier can hold forever against the armies of death."
--NPR.org

“The kind of smart, funny, pop culture-filled tale that would make George Romero proud…[Whitehead] succeeds brilliantly with a fresh take on survival, grief, 9/11, AIDS, global warming, nuclear holocaust, Katrina, Abu Ghraib, Pol Pot’s Year Zero, Missouri tornadoes, and the many other disasters both natural and not that keep a stranglehold on our fears.”
-- Publishers Weekly, starred review

"This diabolically smart, covertly sensitive, ruminative, and witty zombie nightmare prods us to think about how we dehumanize others, how society tramples and consumes individuals, how flimsy our notions of law and order are, and how easily deluded and profoundly vulnerable humankind is. A deft, wily, and unnerving blend of pulse-elevating action and sniper-precise satire."
--Booklist, starred review

"[Whitehead] sinks his teeth into a popular format and emerges with a literary feast, producing his most compulsively readable work to date...Whitehead transforms the zombie novel into an allegory of contemporary Manhattan (and, by extension, America)."
--Kirkus, starred review

"[Zone One] achieves a kind of miracle of tone. A fragile hope permeates these pages, one so painful and tender, it's heartbreaking...Colson Whitehead is in fresh, appealing and often very fine voice."
--The Guardian

"The stylistic exuberance on display would be overwhelming if it weren't so well controlled, shifting weightlessly from M*A*S*H-style battle narrative to a melancholic Blade Runner-like vision of Urban devastation...The smallest of details is marked by originality of language."
--The New Statesman

"Zone One is not the work of a serious novelist slumming it with some genre-novel cash-in, but rather a lovely piece of writing...Whitehead picks at our nervousness about order's thin grip, suggesting just how flimsy the societal walls are that make possible our hopes and dreams and overly complicated coffee orders. Pretty scary."
--Entertainment Weekly

“Colson Whitehead is quickly becoming one of the country’s most exciting young writers.”
--Rachel Syme for Monkey See, NPR.org



PRAISE FOR COLSON WHITEHEAD:

“[Whitehead’s] writing does what writing should do; it refreshes our sense of the world.”
John Updike, The New Yorker
 
“Colson Whitehead…[is] a large and vibrant talent…This is the voice of a writer who is watching America carefully.”
The New York Observer
 
“Whitehead is making a strong case for a new name of his own: that of the best of the new generation of American novelists.”
Boston Globe
 
“No novelist writing today is more engaging and entertaining when it comes to questions of race, class, and commercial culture than Colson Whitehead.”
USA Today
 
 “Whitehead has a David Foster Wallace-esque knack for punctuating meticulously figurative constructions with deadpan slacker wit….You can’t help but admire Whitehead’s writerly gifts.”
The Los Angeles Times
 
“Whitehead can write sentences like nobody’s business.”
Bloomberg

“Whitehead’s engaged eyes and precise prose show us the small details we overlook and the large ones we fail to absorb.”
The Miami Herald

“[Whitehead] writes wonderfully, commanding a lush, poetic, mellifluous prose instrument.”
The Nation
 
“Whitehead [is] one of the city’s and country’s finest young writers.”
Chicago Tribune
 
“Ebullient, supremely confident.”
San Diego Union Tribune
 
“A scientist of metropolitan encounters, he surveys places where the masses collide, knitting together hundreds of observations and calculations that usually remain unspoken.”
The Village Voice

About the Author

COLSON WHITEHEAD is the author of the national best seller Sag Harbor and the novels The Intui tionist, John Henry Days, and Apex Hides the Hurt, as well as The Colossus of New York, a collection of essays. A recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

He always wanted to live in New York. His Uncle Lloyd lived downtown on Lafayette, and in the long stretches between visits he daydreamed about living in his apartment. When his mother and father dragged him to the city for that season's agreed-upon exhibit or good-for-you Broadway smash, they usually dropped in on Uncle Lloyd for a quick hello. These afternoons were preserved in a series of photographs taken by strangers. His parents were holdouts in an age of digital multiplicity, raking the soil in lonesome areas of resistance: a coffee machine that didn't tell time, dictionaries made out of paper, a camera that only took pictures. The family camera did not transmit their coordinates to an orbiting satellite. It did not allow them to book airfare to beach resorts with close access to rain forests via courtesy shuttle. There was no prospect of video, high-def or otherwise. The camera was so backward that every lurching specimen his father enlisted from the passersby was able to operate it sans hassle, no matter the depth of cow-eyed vacancy in their tourist faces or local wretchedness inverting their spines. His family posed on the museum steps or beneath the brilliant marquee with the poster screaming over their left shoulders, always the same composition. The boy stood in the middle, his parents' hands dead on his shoulders, year after year. He didn't smile in every picture, only that percentage culled for the photo album. Then it was in the cab to his uncle's and up the elevator once the doorman screened them. Uncle Lloyd dangled in the doorframe and greeted them with a louche "Welcome to my little bungalow."

As his parents were introduced to Uncle Lloyd's latest girlfriend, the boy was down the hall, giddy and squeaking on the leather of the cappuccino sectional and marveling over the latest permutations in home entertainment. He searched for the fresh arrival first thing. This visit it was the wireless speakers haunting the corners like spindly wraiths, the next he was on his knees before a squat blinking box that served as some species of multimedia brainstem. He dragged a finger down their dark surfaces and then huffed on them and wiped the marks with his polo shirt. The televisions were the newest, the biggest, levitating in space and pulsing with a host of extravagant functions diagrammed in the unopened owner's manuals. His uncle got every channel and maintained a mausoleum of remotes in the storage space inside the ottoman. The boy watched TV and loitered by the glass walls, looking out on the city through smoky anti-UV glass, nineteen stories up.

The reunions were terrific and rote, early tutelage in the recursive nature of human experience. "What are you watching?" the girlfriends asked as they padded in bearing boutique seltzer and chips, and he'd say "The buildings," feeling weird about the pull the skyline had on him. He was a mote cycling in the wheels of a giant clock. Millions of people tended to this magnificent contraption, they lived and sweated and toiled in it, serving the mechanism of metropolis and making it bigger, better, story by glorious story and idea by unlikely idea. How small he was, tumbling between the teeth. But the girlfriends were talking about the monster movies on TV, the women in the monster movies bolting through the woods or shriveling in the closet trying not to make a sound or vainly flagging down the pickup that might rescue them from the hillbilly slasher. The ones still standing at the credit roll made it through by dint of an obscure element in their character. "I can't stand these scary stories," the girlfriends said before returning to the grown-ups, attempting an auntly emanation as if they might be the first of their number promoted to that office. His father's younger brother was fastidious when it came to expiration dates.

He liked to watch monster movies and the city churning below. He fixed on odd details. The ancient water towers lurking atop obstinate old prewars and, higher up, the massive central-air units that hunkered and coiled on the striving high-rises, glistening like extruded guts. The tar-paper pates of tenements. He spotted the occasional out-of-season beach chair jackknifed on gravel, seemingly gusted up from the street below. Who was its owner? This person staked out corners of the city and made a domain. He squinted at the slogans cantering along stairwell entrances, the Day-Glo threats and pidgin manifestos, a.k.a.'s of impotent revolutionaries. Blinds and curtains were open, half open, shut, voids in a punch card decipherable only by defunct mainframes lodged in the crust of unmarked landfills. Pieces of citizens were on display in the windows, arranged by a curator with a taste for non sequitur: the splayed pinstriped legs of an urban golfer putting into a colander; half a lady's torso, wrapped in a turquoise blazer, as glimpsed through a trapezoid; a fist trembling on a titanium desk. A shadow bobbed behind a bathroom's bumpy glass, steam slithering through the slit.

He remembered how things used to be, the customs of the skyline. Up and down the island the buildings collided, they humiliated runts through verticality and ambition, sulked in one another's shadows. Inevitability was mayor, term after term. Yesterday's old masters, stately named and midwifed by once-famous architects, were insulted by the soot of combustion engines and by technological advances in construction. Time chiseled at elegant stonework, which swirled or plummeted to the sidewalk in dust and chips and chunks. Behind the façades their insides were butchered, reconfigured, rewired according to the next era's new theories of utility. Classic six into studio honeycomb, sweatshop killing floor into cordoned cubicle mill. In every neighborhood the imperfect in their fashion awaited the wrecking ball and their bones were melted down to help their replacements surpass them, steel into steel. The new buildings in wave upon wave drew themselves out of rubble, shaking off the past like immigrants. The addresses remained the same and so did the flawed philosophies. It wasn't anyplace else. It was New York City.

The boy was smitten. His family stopped by Uncle Lloyd's every couple of months. He drank the seltzer, he watched monster movies, he was a sentry at the window. The building was a totem sheathed in blue metal, a changeling in the nest of old walk-ups. The zoning commission had tucked the bribes into their coats, and now there he was, floating over the tapering island. There was a message there, if he could teach himself the language. On rainy-day visits the surfaces of the buildings were pitiless and blank, as they were this day, years later. With the sidewalks hidden from view, the boy conjured an uninhabited city, where no one lived behind all those miles and miles of glass, no one caught up with loved ones in living rooms filled with tasteful and affirming catalog furniture, and all the elevators hung like broken puppets at the end of long cables. The city as ghost ship on the last ocean at the rim of the world. It was a gorgeous and intricate delusion, Manhattan, and from crooked angles on overcast days you saw it disintegrate, were forced to consider this tenuous creature in its true nature.

If you'd asked him on any of those childhood afternoons what he wanted to be when he grew up--tapping his shoulder as the family car inserted itself into the queue for the Midtown Tunnel or as they hummed toward their exit on the Long Island Expressway--he would have had nothing to offer with regards to profession or avocation. His father wanted to be an astronaut when he was a kid, but the boy had never been anything but earthbound, kicking pebbles. All he was truly sure of was that he wanted to live in a city gadget, something well-stocked and white-walled, equipped with rotating bosomy beauties. His uncle's apartment resembled the future, a brand of manhood waiting on the other side of the river. When his unit finally started sweeping beyond the wall--whenever that was--he knew he had to visit Uncle Lloyd's apartment, to sit on the sectional one last time and stare at the final, empty screen in the series. His uncle's building was only a few blocks past the barrier and he found himself squinting at it when it strode into view. He searched for the apartment, counting metallic blue stories and looking for movement. The dark glass relinquished nothing. He hadn't seen his uncle's name on any of the survivor rolls and prayed against a reunion, the slow steps coming down the hall.

If you'd asked him about his plans at the time of the ruin, the answer would have come easily: lawyering. He was bereft of attractive propositions, constitutionally unaccustomed to enthusiasm, and generally malleable when it came to his parents' wishes, adrift on that gentle upper-middle-class current that kept its charges cheerfully bobbing far from the shoals of responsibility. It was time to stop drifting. Hence, law. He was long past finding it ironic when his unit swept a building in that week's grid and they came upon a den of lawyers. They slogged through the blocks day after day and there had been too many firms in too many other buildings for it to have any novelty. But this day he paused. He slung his assault rifle over his shoulder and parted the blinds at the end of the corridor. All he wanted was a shred of uptown. He tried to orient himself: Was he looking north or south? It was like dragging a fork through gruel. The ash smeared the city's palette into a gray hush on the best of days, but introduce clouds and a little bit of precip and the city became an altar to obscurity. He was an insect exploring a gravestone: the words and names were crevasses to get lost in, looming and meaningless.

This was the fourth day of rain, Friday afternoon, and a conditioned part of him submitted to end-of-the-week lassitude, even if Fridays had lost their meaning. Hard to believe that reconstruction had progressed so far that clock-watching had returned, the slacker's code, the concept of weekend. It had been a humdrum couple of days, reaffirming his belief in reincarnatio...
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