Book Review: ‘Zone One’ by Colson Whitehead

Book: Zone One by Colson Whitehead
Reviewed by: Kester

Zombie stories are all the rage this decade and, really, have been, to varying degrees, for much longer than that. But most zombie stories from the past decade tend to go one of two ways; either they are fun and exciting or they are scary as hell. Sometimes, they are both.

But the thing that zombie stories used to be in a way that they aren’t as much anymore is horrifying. Not in a gross way (zombie stories continue to go for gross), but in a “how are we ever going to survive this?” way. In a “war is hell” way. In a Cormac McCarthy way. The way it would be if there were actually a zombie apocalypse.

Colson Whitehead’s Zone One is that kind of book. It’s the yin to World War Z‘s yang. It’s the Matterhorn of zombie stories. It captures how it would feel to actually have survived, and to continue to try surviving, a world full of zombies.

Marc Spitz (not his real name) is one such survivor, a man who has watched loved ones changed or devoured, a man who has foraged for food and fended for himself across a barren landscape. A man who has found his way to Zone One, where other American survivors have also gathered and now work as citizen soldiers, cleaning up the mess and taking out the remaining zombies. It’s thankless work, tedious and boring except for those times when it’s an “aim for the head” horror show.

This story feels real in a way that we don’t expect from such a fantastic premise. Whitehead has a knack for this sort of thing. Ever since The Intuitionist he’s been helping us to understand what the stuff we can only imagine might see and feel and smell and taste like. It’s still scary. It’s still exciting. But it isn’t fun. And neither is a zombie apocalypse.

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