Colson Whitehead’s ZONE ONE

“the real movie started after the first one ended, in the impossible return to things before.”

I have to start by admitting that this is my first zombie book. I’ve seen plenty of zombie movies and read the occasional vampire novel (Joe Pitt Rules!) but hadn’t yet read a zombie novel. ZONE ONE is pitched as “a zombie novel for people with BRAINS” which is initially funny, then a little offensive if you think about but in the end a very accurate blurb. This is a literary zombie novel (as much as I hate the term literary). It is not a fast paced thrill ride. It will make you think, laugh and then think some more while at the same time have you on the edge of your seat biting your fingernails..

The traditional zombie storyline is set on the day or night things go to shit and then plays over the ensuing days. ZONE ONE is different. It is set over 3 days, two years after a plague has infected the planet. We follow a character nicknamed “Mark Spitz” who is the member of a crew helping to clear the remnants of the undead from New York so resettlement can begin. The American Government has regained a foothold and the worst seems to be behind those who remain. Hope is something nobody wants to imagine but bit by bit they are gaining back land lost to the undead including Manhattan, Zone One. We are fed flashbacks of how “Mark Spitz” managed to survive and how he got to New York, intermingled with his job of clearing out the empty buildings of New York, cleaning up after the Marines who have already been through.

Colson Whitehead has a lot of fun with the world he has created which is just as bleak and pessimistic as the pre-zombie world we all know. The plague has created a new form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder known as PASD (Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder) of which 100% of people suffer. The provisional Government, now based in Buffalo, is not only embarking on a rebuilding program but also a public relations one including motivational slogans and anthems. New jobs and technologies have emerged and a new vernacular has also been born amongst the survivors as they come to terms with what they have survived and what they now face.

Colson also has fun with what constitutes a zombie, having fun alluding to people who are addicted to screens and gadgets or stuck in mundane jobs that require no thought. People who now must literally run for their lives and survive day-to-day have never been more truly alive. There is also a sub-category of zombies known as ‘stragglers’ who seem to be frozen in place, an existence one character believes might be the happy medium between the blood thirsty infected and the constantly hunted uninfected.

ZONE ONE is a wickedly brilliant reinvention of the zombie novel. The zombie genre has always been open to brilliant social commentary and Colson proves this in spades. ZONE ONE is dark and cynical but also affecting and thought-provoking. Don’t judge this book by its genre, this is a zombie book you must read.

Now I must go a re watch the first season of THE WALKING DEAD….


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