Brief Reviews, VOLUME 5

Brief Review: Zone One: A Zombie Novel by Colson Whitehead

“Manhattan, The City that Never Dies”

A Brief Review of

Zone One: A Novel
by Colson Whitehead
Hardback:  Doubleday, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Chris Enstad

Zombie fiction has been experiencing something of a, ahem, rebirth in the last few years… if it was ever really dead at all.  From the monster movies of the 50’s to the Sam Raimi classic of 1981, Evil Dead, to the Woody Harrelson film Zombieland to the recent bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or the latest runaway AMC TV show The Walking Dead there is just something about zombies that seems to resonate in our blood.

The last two iterations of zom-fic have an added element to them that might be part of their draw; the conjunction of apocalyptic visions of America with the monster infestations that bring about said apocalypses.  It is hard not to strike the fancy of many Americans nowadays with visions of the end times.  Were we to bring the end upon ourselves, rather than having it inflicted upon us from some outside enemy, would strike many as ironic while others would probably not get the joke.

Add to this mix the latest novel from Colson Whitehead, Zone One.  Whitehead was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and graduated from Harvard.  His five previous novels have all won praise and one was shortlisted for the Pulitzer.  I was intrigued to see that he had trained his eye on this genre of fiction and, having heard plenty of positive feedback, decided to make this one of my fall reads.

Zone One takes place mainly in Manhattan after some kind of disease has left America with, basically, two classes of individuals, the infected and the uninfected.  Most of the infected have been killed off, always brutally and usually by some kind of para-military operation, and Americans have begun to push out their safe “zones” to try to bring back some part of their past way of life.

Mark Spitz (you’ll have to read the book to see why he has that name) is the main protaganist.  His job is to clear each skyscraper in the newly cordoned off Zone One, nee, lower Manhattan.  What they find, besides the occasional infected zombie, are the zombies who didn’t quite “reboot” the “right” way.  In this new twist on the zombie-formula instead of dying and then coming to zombie-life, these poor souls are only partially rebooted and so stand doing whatever it was they were doing when their brains were turned off by the infection.  Spitz’s team must identify, dispatch, and clean up each of these “stragglers”.

It does us well to catch Whitehead’s nod as we look up wondering, “Is it set in lower Manhattan for a reason?”  Of course it is.  We are truly at ground zero in this novel as civilization attempts to wrest back control from an ugly turn of mother nature.  Whitehead catches us yearning for comfort and safety and, in the nearly unforeseen climax, shows us that the frontier is always, always, lying just outside our fences.


Chris Enstad is the Poetry and Fiction editor of The Englewood Review of Books.  He is also Senior Pastor of Elim Lutheran Church of Robbinsdale, MN.  His blog can be found at

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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Reading for the Common Good
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