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CBR4 #14: Zone One by Colson Whitehead

As much as I like them, I will admit that most zombie books are basically the same. Usually, they start out with things being normal, then the zombie apocalypse happens, the survivors are thrown into disarray, and eventually they band together and try to fight back after discovering that no help is on the way and the only people they can rely on are themselves. Lucky for me (and probably you too) this book is different.

This is the story of a man who is nicknamed Mark Spitz. Before the zombies took over the world, he was perfectly average. No matter what he did, he always ended up in the comfortable middle of things. He was neither very good nor very poor at anything. Then the world fell apart and it turned out that he was good at surviving, if nothing else.

When the story starts, Mark and his teammates Kaitlyn and Gary are employed as "sweepers". At the time, the government has been reestablished, and things are starting to proceed forward with all the grace and expediency one can expect from a burgeoning bureaucracy. The Marines had come in and cleared a large part of Manhattan of the rampaging dead, building a wall around their clear area. Now the teams of sweepers must go through and eliminate any stragglers. "Stragglers" are zombies who don't eat or chase, but just remain frozen like statues in some aspect of their former lives--opening the copy machine, standing on a corner waiting for a (long burned-out) light to change, window-shopping through a broken, empty window. The idea is to make this part of the city inhabitable again.

The frame of the story takes place over the course of three days, filled out with many flashbacks from Mark Spitz's life. He also spends time philosophically musing over the state of the earth and his place in it, and what place the zombies might have in the future of the country.

The writing in this was great (I read it directly after Johnny Gruesome and the adjustment was a little tough, because the language in this was so dense and full of top-shelf vocabulary). I identified with each of the characters, all of whom were distinct and relateable. Mark Spitz's voice is great, defined by a certain cynical humor. The story was sometimes confusing due to the lack of chronology, but it always came back together and moved on in a new direction. The plot was also very original and different than a lot of the other entries in this genre. In general, this was just a great book to read. I highly recommend it.

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