Zone One: Colson Whitehead's Modern Day Classic

Zone One: Colson Whitehead's Modern Day Classic

Beautiful prose, complex narrative, and zombies.

Colson Whitehead (who has expressed disdain that his celebrity look-alike appears to be "that creepy teacher" from season 1 of The Killing) is the author of 6 major novels, including the critically acclaimed "The Underground Railroad."

He writes as a literary author, or as Glen Duncan, author of the New York Times's article " A Plague of Urban Undead in Lower Manhattan," someone who, "writes with the intent of using more complex forms of language to express difficult ideas and who expects the reader to take time to follow the complexities incorporated in the author's work."

That's what makes "Zone One" so interesting. Clearly a piece with all the trademarks of a sci-fi, the novel has a persistent complexity that is often lacking in genre fiction. Combing genre and literary fiction isn't something commonly seen in the literature scene, and Duncan describes Whitehead's genre-bending as "an intellectual dating a porn star," while also asking the question, "what's in it for the porn-star?" Or, more plainly, why would a literary author write in genre fiction? Toying with the idea of chalking it up to increasing the size of Whitehead's readership, writer Glen Duncan states that "[Whitehead] is always going to have more to [plot] than the dictates of genre allow… we get, in short, an attempt to take the psychology of the premise seriously, to see if it makes a relevant shape."

"Zone One" takes place over three days, though Whitehead takes his readers through a story that spans far past that brief plotline. The novel focuses on Mark Spitz, a sweeper (a part of the new citizen military) tasked with exterminating leftover zombies (termed "skels") from Manhattan.

Spitz is a strict adherent to mediocrity, prone to introversion and flashbacks even in the most intense situations. Existential, poignant, and often tragically longing reflections on society, on the self, and circumstance pervade the novel from beginning to end. As Charlie Anders writes, "'Zone One' shows how life after the zombie apocalypse turns everybody into a kind of zombie." In a Kafkaesque manner, Whitehead manages to establish the hum-drum within a post-apocalyptic world. Survivors are prohibited from looting goods from companies who have not "sponsored" the revitalization effort. While Spitz acknowledges some surely have caches of hoarded loot tucked away within the sweep zones, the climate of the novel conveys a tangible feeling of the burden of bureaucracy, of rules preventing the uninhibited human nature present even within a society with a government that is barely operational.

In one particularly clever analogy, audiences can't help but see the similarities between "stragglers" and survivors. Stragglers are skels that the survivors have established to pose no risk to humans. Instead of attacking humans, they simply stand frozen in place. Spitz reflects on the meaning of these places to the stragglers. Was this someplace important to them, or just perhaps a random spot they managed to find before the virus burned through their nervous systems?

Stragglers come to represent the dangers of "clinging to the past." In fact, the past is brought up again and again. Time to loses meaning as flashbacks blend fluidly into developing situations, leading the audience to experience a sort of second-hand trauma induced Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD) present within all survivors.

Personally, "Zone One" took me on a not-so-lucid journey through the life of someone managing to eke out a living in a world filled with hostile empty faces, individuals hollowed out by the stress of living, and harrowed, lifeless husks anchored to an arbitrary point in the past, waiting for this life to pass. Whitehead creates an environment where time is not so much linear, but instead acts as a dimension through which the protagonist escorts us as he would a visitor around a house. He gives an incoherent tour, with the smallest details spawning entire pages of digression. Yet this digression seemed particularly relevant; it was the story. Whitehead creates a palpable distance between Spitz and the audience, and transforms this distance to reflect an individual's distance to society, posing the question, "within a societal context, of what importance is the story of the individual?" The horrific and, as always, beautifully written, conclusion to the novel (no spoilers) suggests, quite flatly, that it might not.

"Zone One" was a brilliant, dizzying, and thoroughly devastating novel that poses existential questions not found within the world of genre fiction. The blending of literary and genre work done by Whitehead has been very successful and has resulted in one of my favorite reads.

Cover Image Credit: Morgadu

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8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.

Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.

7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

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From One Nerd To Another

My contemplation of the complexities between different forms of art.


Aside from reading Guy Harrison's guide to eliminating scientific ignorance called, "At Least Know This: Essential Science to Enhance Your Life" and, "The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer" by Charles Graeber, an informative and emotional historical account explaining the potential use of our own immune systems to cure cancer, I read articles and worked on my own writing in order to keep learning while enjoying my winter break back in December. I also took a trip to the Guggenheim Museum.

I wish I was artistic. Generally, I walk through museums in awe of what artists can do. The colors and dainty details simultaneously inspire me and remind me of what little talent I posses holding a paintbrush. Walking through the Guggenheim was no exception. Most of the pieces are done by Hilma af Klint, a 20th-century Swedish artist expressing her beliefs and curiosity about the universe through her abstract painting. I was mostly at the exhibit to appease my mom (a K - 8th-grade art teacher), but as we continued to look at each piece and read their descriptions, I slowly began to appreciate them and their underlying meanings.

I like writing that integrates symbols, double meanings, and metaphors into its message because I think that the best works of art are the ones that have to be sought after. If the writer simply tells you exactly what they were thinking and how their words should be interpreted, there's no room for imagination. An unpopular opinion in high school was that reading "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne was fun. Well, I thought it was. At the beginning of the book, there's a scene where Hawthorne describes a wild rosebush that sits just outside of the community prison. As you read, you are free to decide whether it's an image of morality, the last taste of freedom and natural beauty for criminals walking toward their doom, or a symbol of the relationship between the Puritans with their prison-like expectations and Hester, the main character, who blossoms into herself throughout the novel. Whichever one you think it is doesn't matter, the point is that the rosebush can symbolize whatever you want it to. It's the same with paintings - they can be interpreted however you want them to be.

As we walked through the building, its spiral design leading us further and further upwards, we were able to catch glimpses of af Klint's life through the strokes of her brush. My favorite of her collections was one titled, "Evolution." As a science nerd myself, the idea that the story of our existence was being incorporated into art intrigued me. One piece represented the eras of geological time through her use of spirals and snails colored abstractly. She clued you into the story she was telling by using different colors and tones to represent different periods. It felt like reading "The Scarlet Letter" and my biology textbook at the same time. Maybe that sounds like the worst thing ever, but to me it was heaven. Art isn't just art and science isn't just science. Aspects of different studies coexist and join together to form something amazing that will speak to even the most untalented patron walking through the museum halls.

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