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PUB DAY: Zone One, by Colson Whitehead

Greg Zimmerman

Staff Writer

Greg Zimmerman blogs about contemporary literary fiction at The New Dork Review of Books and holds down a full-time gig as a trade magazine editor. Follow him on Twitter: @NewDorkReview.

Though Colson Whitehead is an accomplished novelist and an insightful essayist (19,000 words on the World Series of Poker!), I’d argue that some of his best writing is published in an unusual spot: On his zany Twitter feed. Here’s an example. “When you clear my site’s cookies from your browser, they send an “Avenge me!” blast home, and then you’re in trouble, buster.” Here’s another: “Just saw ‘Dolphin’s Tale.’ Bah! They should have called it…actually, that’s a pretty appropriate title.”

Indeed, Whitehead is a writer with exceptional range. The former MacArthur Fellow (yes, he is really, really smart, in addition to being a goofy tweeter and an obsessive poker fan) burst onto the literary scene with his second novel, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated historical novel (John Henry Days). He’s also written speculative fiction (The Intuitionist), a semi-autobiographical (and fantastic!) childhood summer vacation story (Sag Harbor), and now, a literary zombie novel (Zone One — out today).

If you’re one of the many readers (like me, frankly), who, upon first blush, considers “literary zombie novel” to be an oxymoron of the most immense proportions, well, we’ve got another think comin’. Justin Cronin’s The Passage paved the way, and if one is a fluke, but two is a trend, Zone One seems to have started a trend. Indeed, Cronin writes a glowing review on Amazon, explaining that “Whitehead’s language zings and soars.” Yes, we should be skeptical of such “rising-tide-raises-all-ships-(of the same genre)”-type reviews. But Cronin’s sentiment is certainly my experience with Whitehead’s writing, as well. He’s a clever, engaging writer on both a micro (line-by-line) and macro (whole novel) scale.

So, I for one, can’t wait to dive into Zone One. Here’s the dime tour of the story itself: It’s about a dude named Mark Spitz (presumably, he’s a different dude than the famed diver) spends three days trying to round up the remaining zombies who infest lower Manhattan. But apparently all doesn’t go as planned.

So what do you think? Intrigued? Are you planning to cast your zombie aversions aside and check out a great writer like Whitehead (if you haven’t already)?

(Here’s a great interview with Whitehead  from NPR, if you’re interested in more in-depth info about the novel.)