“Zone One” by Colson Whitehead, A Zombie Novel

“Zone One” by Colson Whitehead (2011) – 259 pages

 “All the writers were busy pouring jugs of kerosene on heaps of the dead, pitching in for a change.”

Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis

I remember thinking, “If I ever, ever were to read a zombie novel, it would have to be by Colson Whitehead.”  Well here it is, “Zone One”. Colson Whitehead established himself, in my mind, as one of the finest novelists around with his first two books, “The Intuitionist” and “John Henry Days”.

 Zombies or fighting zombies has never been one of my main areas of interest, although it has been fun to see those out for the annual Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis.  I did figure if anyone could make a zombie novel come alive, it would be Whitehead. 

 There are three well-defined characters in “Zone One”.  There is the main character Mark Spitz who is “the most likely not to be named the most likely anything.”  There is Gary who brings an extra enthusiastic elan to zombie defacing and beheading.  Finally there is their yuppie leader Kaitlyn who brings some much-needed professionalism to their straggler disposal unit.        

 As long as the novel is in the Here and Now with our three well-defined characters decapitating zombies, the novel works to some extent. Whitehead has a lot of fun both making ironic commentary on the upper class life style in New York City now turned into zombie land and also deriding Connecticut.

 What kills the novel are the interminable flashbacks.  Many, many characters are introduced during these flashbacks who really have nothing to do with the main plot.  Also the language used for these flashbacks is convoluted and not at all direct.   Reading the novel became somewhat of a long slog for me.  I must admit I had more difficulty finishing this novel than any other I’ve completed this year.  I just totally lost interest in the story, and it actually became painful to read on.   

 “Zone One” is walking dead on arrival.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Tony: You have certainly confirmed my decision not to read a zombie novel. Sorry you had to go through the pain to do it.


  2. Hi Kevin,
    The NYT reviewer, Glen Duncan tried to claim that people who didn’t like this book would be zombie genre readers who didn’t like the literary style. I came from the other side, the literary side, and I didn’t like it either. I always have high expectations for Colson Whitehead, but both his ‘Apex Hides the Hurt’ and ‘Zone One’ have disappointed.


  3. I’ve been on the fence about whether or not to pick up this one. I just don’t think the zombie thing really speaks to me. I’ve basically made a deal with myself that if it ends up in the Tournament of Books I’ll read it, but otherwise I think I’m going to take a pass.

    Also, I like the snow falling on the screen while I read your blog. Nice 😉


  4. Hi Jenny,
    Thanks for the compliment on the snow!
    I guess the lesson of ‘Zone One’ would be that if a literary writer is going to write a genre novel, they better stick to the conventions of the genre. Thus in a zombie novel you want all the action in the here and now dealing with and fighting the zombies. The reader, including myself, does not want a lot of flashbacks or backstory.


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