Zone One, by Colson Whitehead

Zone OneSo I’m in a book club with a bunch of college friends, and one of them was like, “Hey, you guys ever read Zone One?” And I was like, “No, but you should make it your pick so that I have a reason to read it! ZOMBIES FTW!” And then another clubber, a friend whose opinions I tend to agree with, read the book and gave it two stars on GoodReads. And then hours later she changed it to one star. One star! I was concerned.

When I finally started reading the book, less than 24 hours before club time, I was already mentally preparing to come here and be all, I wanted to like this book but I really just couldn’t. The whole first chapter, which is like 100 pages long, is a Franzen-esque stream of big words that I had to look up and heady philosophical musings that seemed more than a bit out of place in a book I knew to be about ZOMBIES. I thought maybe this was going to be one of those books that’s just smarter than I am.

And it is, a little, because first chapter wow, but once Whitehead gets out of Friday and into Saturday (another 100-ish pages) and Sunday (the last 50), things pick up. The words get smaller or at least more commonly large, we start learning more about Our Protagonist Mark Spitz’s background, and the focus shifts from “This is the world now and this is what Mark Spitz is doing in it” to “Mark Spitz is wondering if maybe the world isn’t exactly what it seems oh here come the ZOMBIES.”

The aforementioned one-star-giver and other clubbers took issue primarily with the fact that Whitehead introduces a lot of stuff and brings up a lot of questions and basically the only one he answers is why Mark Spitz is called Mark Spitz and yes, it’s always Mark Spitz and never Mark or Spitz or whatever. On the one hand, I agree and am like “But wherefore zombies and also why do these ‘stragglers’ exist and what is the code on the highway and what the heck is Mark Spitz’s real name and and and….” On the other hand, with the different fingers, I am like, “So why are there zombies? I am intrigued by these stragglers and would like to know more. This book has left me with many things to think about.”

It’s a subtle distinction, sure, but I feel like I’ve learned enough about the situation as it stands over the three days of the novel that I don’t need to know why everything else exists or happened or whatever, because that’s not the point. The point is that Mark Spitz is living a really weird life and it concerns him a little bit but what is there to do about it, and at the very least the book makes me very glad I live in a world without zombies. For now.

Recommendation: For people who studied lots of SAT vocab, who are intrigued by the undead, and who don’t mind a book that doesn’t resolve itself in any useful way.

Rating: 8/10

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6 thoughts on “Zone One, by Colson Whitehead

  1. Laura Ansley says:

    I feel like a character in your blog post – but you are right, this book does make me happy that I don’t live in a world full of zombies.

    • Alison says:

      ZOMBIES! I love them, theoretically. Practically, not so much. 🙂 And you are certainly a character, ha ha I crack myself up.

  2. Amy says:

    See I forgot about the code on the highway and now I want to know what it means! For my next zombie book, I am going to find the book of zombie oral histories, where they presumably ask a zombie how they got to be one and how they feel about it. Perhaps it will provide the resolution I’m looking for.

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