The battle between Spitz and the zombies is a contest between hollow vessels on both sides, which is one reason why Zone One ultimately feels like such a sad book. Not that Whitehead — who can be a very funny writer — passes up any opportunities for a little zombie humor. A pop psychologist coins the syndrome PASD (or “post-apocalyptic stress disorder”) to explain the jitters people feel about the new dispensation, and the government hands out helpful pamphlets on how to cope with it; of course everyone on earth is grappling with their PASD, or past. And few writers could combine horror and fashion criticism as effortlessly as Whitehead does, when explaining how to distinguish between zombies and humans from a distance: “Only a human cursed with the burden of free will would wear a poncho.” Still, the overall tone is melancholic, even elegiac. Why doesn’t our hero seek to get out of Zone One, give up the sweeper lifestyle, try to get somewhere safe? The impulse to escape is utterly absent from these pages, presumably because New York City is still, for Mark Spitz as for Whitehead, the center of the world, and the place he always wanted to live. After all, New York is never what we dreamed it was going to be when we were young, and the zombie apocalypse is just another teacher of that hard lesson.
more from Alix Ohlin at the LA Review of Books here.