By Rafael A. Hernandez
End of the world. Though society continues with its strives through the decades, humanity seems to be acclimating itself to a world where they would be for want of the commodities in common life. None can predict if an apocalypse is on the horizon but many have begun to theorize how it may come about. Perhaps now a staple of modern culture, the zombie apocalypse story stands above all other forms of human termination. Zone One by Colson Whitehead attempts to take the familiar zombie tale and fuse it with pensive and insightful sensibilities, not merely the survival horror story that has been used far too often.
Zone One takes place in Manhattan where teams known as sweepers, on orders from a surviving government body in Buffalo, traipse through buildings in the major metropolitan area and clear them of residual zombies known as “skels”. The main character, known only as Mark Spitz, ironically named after the famous Olympian, is followed as he and his team climb floor after floor, eradicating skels locked in the forsaken nooks of the city. The resounding note of ease in humanity’s survival provides a premature triumph for the characters. Reader’s are foregone the tribulations of going through the outbreak. Instead they deal with the mundane function of a world’s reconstruction. Keen streams of consciousness are Zone One's greatest success. Though the novel spans only three days in real time, the major content is comprised of recollections of major characters, namely Mark Spitz. These thoughts touch on moments of the characters' pasts, their sentiments on the present and the way they cope in their reclaimed world.
But this unique undertaking is not without its errors. While Whitehead does manage to create great segues into humanity’s deepest thoughts, even those without precedent, he often fails to maintain the attention of his readers. This is partly because of the novel’s three chapter separation and partly due to the story’s disregard for standardized progress. Musings about a past relationship, or a comrade’s unfortunate demise at the jaws of a skel, meddle with the pacing of this story, motioning the reader to lose interest or simply write off the narration as irrelevant. To a seasoned reader, these narrative refrains have implicit significance, thus take a keener eye to perceive. But casual readers may find these series of tangents bothersome and unhelpful to the whole story.
Not unlike a masterful work of art, Zone One has qualities that are both substantial and philosophical. Sadly, these qualities can easily be viewed as overbearing. Those looking to find a story of survival with dashes of horror and suspense will find only meager traces. What they will find is the shining gleam in the darkness, the beacon in humanity that calls them to survive while not forgetting the truth of their origin. Zone One provides a glimpse of a world where man exists despite its ill fate, trying to attain a foothold as extinction remains ever present.