Zone One by Colson Whitehead

12996149Fiction — audiobook. Read by Beresford Bennett. Books on Tape, 2011. 9 hours, 57 minutes. Library copy.

Mark Spitz is a sweeper — a civilian employed by the government in Buffalo to walk through lower Manhattan and kill “malfunctioning” victims of the plague. These victims exist in a catatonic state and sit in front of their televisions or computers transfixed by these remnants of their former lives. Non-malfunctioning victims, whom we would call zombies, have already been eradicated by the military as it successfully reclaimed the island of Manhattan south of Canal Street, also known as Zone One.

Whitehead’s novel switches between the present and Mark’s struggle to survive during the worst of the epidemic, but it is written in a stream of consciousness that is impossible to follow in audiobook format. I kept checking to make sure my iPod had not randomly switched to shuffle because the shift between these two time periods is so muddled and abrupt. Spitz muses on every minor detail in verbose, overwrought prose because, I suspect, Whitehead wanted to create a literary novel out of the post-apocalypse genre.

The reason I picked up the novel — the construction of society following a post-apocalyptic event — was barely touched upon by the author. Buffalo, the new seat of the government, has established camps for survivors of the plague and this fact is briefly mentioned in a sinister tone by Spitz. But this opportunity for social commentary is bypassed, and I am still not sure after listening to sixty percent of the audiobook how some victims of the plague become zombies and others become catatonic duds known as “Skels”. After one more diversion into the past where Spitz laments his grade point average, I decided I was far too bored and far too lost amidst Spitz’s river of thoughts to continue any further.

As for Beresford Bennett’s narration, he has a very deep voice which works well for the male characters. But the female characters sounded very breathy a la Marilyn Monroe, and it hard to tell the few female characters in this novel apart from one another. Certainly does not help alleviate any confusion with this tale.


  1. Ti

    I started this one on audio at least twice but have never gotten very far. There is just something about it that does not sit well with me. I’d do better with print, I think.


    • I was tempted to return the audiobook to the library and pick up the printed novel, but I decided around the 45 percent mark that there wasn’t anything compelling enough to make me go through the hassle.


  2. Pingback: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Ardent Reader

Please feel free to share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: