Zone One

A Novel
Narrated by: Beresford Bennett
Length: 9 hrs and 57 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (437 ratings)

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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.

©2011 Colson Whitehead (P)2011 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"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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Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

32 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Where's the action?

Three hours into the story and I have yet to hear anything that compells me to keep listening. The only reason I listened for that long was because I was traveling and I had not downloaded another audiobook. Too much description, not enough action. I have no idea what the protagonist's goal was, and I never will. I gave up.

5 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

9 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Zombie like pacing

First review for here but this book demands one. The story is told from current perspective with so many flashbacks and introspective moments that you lose the current story all together. I found myself fast forwarding to try and get to some current action but this book is too all over the place. The main story seems to take place over 3 days in the current time but jumps all over the timeline of the disaster told in a dreary PTSD filled monologue. Save your credits or money on this book and get something else .

20 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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I got this before there were reviews

Agreed with several other folks, it was really tough to get through this, in fact I couldn't finish it. The writing was very metaphor-filled and the jumping around in time was really tough to manage. I listen to audio books while driving and this one took a LOT of effort to follow, and at about the 3/4 point, I gave up. I didn't care about any of the characters and I didn't understand why so little was happening.

It was written, well in the sense that it was beautiful how he painted pictures of things, but it was tough to care.

14 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Will make you feel like the undead.

If you like alot (and I mean alot!) of good descriptive prose that makes a comment on the frivolity of modern society pointing out how we are all hopelessly doomed, and want a zombie twist on that, this may be the book for you. I like descriptive prose (even good descriptive prose) only if it flows naturally with the story and helps to move the plot along. If I find myself thinking "Boy.... that sure is ALOT of good descriptive prose." It's at that point my eyeballs roll back in my head and the zombie like moaning begins.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

smarmy intellectual gives zombies a shot

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

we have the convergence of two sub-standard experiences: first, a bloated, overly verbose and self reflective text; second, a reading with too much stylization.

Coleson Whithead is a darling of the intellectual literati, and for good reason. He is a talented and intelligent author, and I have enjoyed some of his shorter works as well as hearing him in interview. As a long-time fan of the zombie / post-apocalyptic genre, this book immediately piqued my interest.

unfortunately it falls flat, tripping over its author's vocabulary and introspection and landing right on its face. A strong start get lost in a soupy miasma of reflections and memories of the protagonist which don't inspire any interest of excitement. Whitehead goes out of his way to make the protagonist, Mark, seem like an everyman; instead of making him relatable, Whitehead succeeds only in limiting Mark to gray tones. will Mark make it through the novel alive? who cares? he's so boring and unremarkable I can't imagine being bothered one way or the other.

on a technical level the book is hindered by an overuse of the author's extensive vocabulary; too many overwrought sentences bulging with pretentious synonyms for common words.regarding the reading: this performer reads like an aspiring actor, or an enthusiastic stage performer reciting someone else's poetry. every sentence is pregnant with meaning, and sounds like it should be accompanied by a soul-bearing stare into a camera. again: sometimes less is more.

Would you ever listen to anything by Colson Whitehead again?

Probably not. I am familiar with his other work, though this is the only novel of his that I have read. I find his writing to be exactly the kind of thing that makes intelligent people scoff and roll their eyes at The New Yorker Magazine; very intelligent, but far too self reflective and all style over substance.

How could the performance have been better?

again, less is more. I think this reading would have succeeded with a more flat and somber reading, given the subject matter. instead the narrator seems to relish the delivery of each line, and his enthusiasm is distracting and overwrought.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Zone One?

there are frequent, pointless forays into navel-gazing regarding the protagonist's past that don't come to much. these passages should either be given more weight or eliminated all together.

Any additional comments?

I can't help but wonder if I would have preferred this book if I had read it instead of listened to it. I don't know if that says anything about Coleson Whithead, but it speaks to the reader / performer for sure.

9 people found this helpful

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It's amazing that this even got published!

What disappointed you about Zone One?

Ever hold a conversation with someone that you felt wanted you to think of them as being super smart. well this book was written by that person. It was so difficult to follow, mostly because I needed a dictionary to get an understanding of every word. And, I'm no idiot. The verbiage was overly complex. So much so, that I at times found myself laughing aloud at how ridiculously difficult the phrases were to understand.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

I would have written it so that even people with

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Beresford Bennett?

My nine year old reads with a more natural flow than the narrator of this book.

8 people found this helpful

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Disappointed

I really wanted to like this book. Rarely have I struggled this much to get through an audio book. The story is all over the place and I found myself just not caring what happened to the characters as I never became invested. This author's style is just not for me, if you decide to buy this audio book don't listen while driving.

6 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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I tried really hard

I went through five chapters of this, but just couldn’t get into it. I have enjoyed Colson Whitehead’s writing in the past (specifically, in "The Underground Railroad," but somehow this was just not engaging, for me.

1 person found this helpful