Zone One

  • by Colson Whitehead
  • Narrated by Beresford Bennett
  • 9 hrs and 57 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In this wry take on the post-apocalyptic horror novel, a pandemic has devastated the planet. The plague has sorted humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead.
Now the plague is receding, and Americans are busy rebuild­ing civilization under orders from the provisional govern­ment based in Buffalo. Their top mission: the resettlement of Manhattan. Armed forces have successfully reclaimed the island south of Canal Street - aka Zone One - but pockets of plague-ridden squatters remain. While the army has eliminated the most dangerous of the infected, teams of civilian volunteers are tasked with clearing out a more innocuous variety - the “malfunctioning” stragglers, who exist in a catatonic state, transfixed by their former lives.
Mark Spitz is a member of one of the civilian teams work­ing in lower Manhattan. Alternating between flashbacks of Spitz’s desperate fight for survival during the worst of the outbreak and his present narrative, the novel unfolds over three surreal days, as it depicts the mundane mission of straggler removal, the rigors of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the impossible job of coming to grips with the fallen world.
And then things start to go wrong.
Both spine chilling and playfully cerebral, Zone One bril­liantly subverts the genre’s conventions and deconstructs the zombie myth for the twenty-first century.

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What the Critics Say

"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)
"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)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Yeah, I get it, but...

Intriguing take on zombies and full of interesting ideas, but probably better for those that don't normally read horror and figure its all worthless pulp (which of course a good bit of it is). The idea of zombies as social commentary with a few laughs has been done before and better (Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" blows this into the weeds). And the idea of a "literary writer" tackling genre fiction is not necessarily new and can be excellent (Le Carre's spy novels or Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"), but sometimes it can be awkward (I'm thinking Martin Amis' ill-advised take on Elmore Leonard, "Night Train"). Still, I was game and stuck with it until the end.

I was able to get past the pacing, but ultimately I think this novel collapses under the weight of its language. There is too much unneeded description and clever turns of phrase and too it often drained scenes of their impact and at times seemed a bit too precious. I'm more than happy to work through pages of character development and back story, and make no mistake Mark Spitz is a great character, although I found the name distracting (I kept thinking why not Michael Phelps? - okay, I'm from Maryland, so shoot me), but I prefer not to be constantly reminded that I am reading "literature." This seems to be what ultimately makes the novel drag. Good writing is unobstrusive, not constantly in your face.

Ultimately a horror novel needs to scary. It can be an "idea" novel or satire or a comment on our decaying culture, but if you're going to have zombies (even ironic ones) and a zippy name like "Zone One," you better build some serious suspense and have some serious scares. In the end, while I applaud the effort, it just didn't do it for me.
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- Scott

Tomorrow needs a marketing rollout.

Everything they say about this book is true. It is slow, confusing, and lacking action...AND it is funny as hell and breathtakingly beautiful.

I don't want to get into a "literary fiction" vs. "mass market fiction" argument here. This book is just not going to do it for a lot of people, and it has nothing to do with education, intelligence, status, etc.

I was almost one of those people. I have a Master's degree in English Lit., but I gave up most serious literature years ago for good, pulpy fun. I spent much of the first two hours listening to Zone One while secretly composing in my head a scathing review about how dull and pointless it seemed.

Then something happened. I got it. I went back to the beginning and listened again. When I got to the end, I went back to the middle for yet another go.

What I found was a moving story, excellent character development, sharply written lines (like the one I used for my headline above), some social commentary (though perhaps a bit obvious...yes, we know, modern folk DO act like the walking dead much of the time), and a different way of looking at the zombie apocalypse.

So I loved it, but you may not. Still, I believe there is room in the genre for Zone One.
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- Annie

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-18-2011
  • Publisher: Random House Audio