Thursday, November 17, 2011


"A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? Granted the intellectual’s hit hanky-panky pay dirt, but what’s in it for the porn star? Conversation? Ideas? Deconstruction?
With the human odd couples, the answer stays behind closed doors (until divorce yields the tremulous interview or hemorrhaging memoir), but with their novelistic analogues, it’s all ours for less than $30.
     [...] The novel is set chiefly in Manhattan, some time after a plague has turned a majority of the world’s population into zombies (or, as Whitehead calls them, 'skels,' short for 'skeletons'). Skels are of two kinds. They’re either dozily rabid predators reduced to a monolithic imperative — eat living flesh — or they’re 'stragglers,' harmless catatonics piteously stuck at their former posts.
    Geographically, 'Zone One' is everything south of Canal Street, a barriered region largely cleared of the undead by the military. Local authority is the brass at 'Fort 'Wonton' in Chinatown, while national administrative power lies with the new provisional government in Buffalo. Civilization is attempting a comeback. According to propaganda, the 'American Phoenix' is rising, thanks to frail corporate sponsorship and therapy for those suffering from P.A.S.D. (post-apocalyptic stress disorder). There’s an Orwellian slogan, 'We Make Tomorrow!' (which I heartily wish didn’t remind me of 'Yes We Can') and a new morale-boosting anthem: “Stop! Can You Hear the Eagle Roar? (Theme From ‘Reconstruction’).” There are also 'sweepers' teams of quasi-military volunteers who go in after the Marines to pick off any stragglers the primary purge might have missed.
     [...] There will be grumbling from self-appointed aficionados of the undead (Sir, I think the author will find that zombies actually . . .) and we’ll have to listen for another season or two to critics batting around the notion that genre-slumming is a recent trend, but none of that will hurt Zone One, which is a cool, thoughtful and, for all its ludic violence, strangely tender novel, a celebration of modernity and a pre-emptive wake for its demise. If this is the intellectual and the porn star, they look pretty good together. For my money, they have a long and happy life ahead of them."
— Glen Duncan, The New York Times (Sunday Book Review)

More about Colson Whitehead here...

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