In the zombie novel Zone One, the undead action starts on page 13, with a military crew sweeping a New York office building for skels -- zombies. Our main character, Mark Spitz, finds a hot nest of lapsed PR women and lawyers, who launch themselves on our hero in teeth-gnashing attack. It's tense, disgusting stuff, and good zombie fun. But what happens before page 13 is just as dazzling, as the author pens a literary description of the New York skyline with glittering passages about life in the city, such as, "It was a gorgeous and intricate delusion, Manhattan, and from crooked angles on overcast days you saw it disintegrate, were forced to consider this tenuous creature in its true nature." Of course, literary descriptions of New York City are a dime a dozen in literary books -- so what's one doing here? There's nothing to worry about: Colson Whitehead is just slumming in genre fiction, like so many serious novelists before him. And yet, it's so much more than that, because no serious novelist has gone full zombie before. Sure, Michael Chabon writes mysteries and Gary Shteyngart set his last book in the future, but the undead? That's the dirt-floor basement of genre fiction. That's the suburban-teen-listening-to-Slayer area of the bookstore. It's a far cry from the airport-bookstore genre of Whitehead's similarly slumming peers, and kudos to him for going to the brink. Let's hope it makes it back.
Mon., July 16, 2012