“Zone One” is the latest novel from Colson Whitehead. Whitehead is a talented young African American novelist who has won a Macarthur Fellowship. Stylistically, he tends to write in a sort of literary mode. So what is Zone One about? Very oddly, it’s about a post apocalytpic USA in which hordes of zombies are rampaging around slaking their hunger for human flesh.
The protagonist here is “Mark Spitz” (not his real name, which we never do learn) who had to sneak out of Manhattan island after the undead claimed his parents, and scavenge for food and shelter around new England until he was picked up by an armored column of soldiers from the “Reconstruction” government. They put him in body armor, arm him to the teeth, and sign him up for duty in “Zone One”- the southern tip of Manhattan, where he spends his days as part of a detail that searches high rise buildings for the undead in order to drop ’em and bag ’em.
We gradually get Mark’s back story in a series of flashbacks, and it’s worth a mention that his life never was that great, before it got a lot worse. The America in this story is a bleak place of social, economic, cultural, and environmental angst. Mark is actually African American, which has nothing to do with anything really- because it does not matter what color you are when you are fighting zombies, right?
Zombie fans are NOT going to go for the angst of the character, and how we really don’t get to know anybody very well. Literary fans are not likely to dig the zombie plot. Who’s going to read it then? Well, very few people probably. It’s actually very good, if you can handle the bleakness. Don’t you have to find a reader, when you are a writer? Well, okay, some people will read it. I did, for example.