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The Zeroby Jess Walter
Synopses & Reviews
What's left of a place when you take the ground away?
Answer: The Zero.
Brian Remy has no idea how he got here. It's been only five days since his city was attacked, and Remy is experiencing gaps in his life — as if he were a stone skipping across water. He has a self-inflicted gunshot wound he doesn't remember inflicting. His son wears a black armband and refuses to acknowledge that Remy is still alive. He seems to be going blind. He has a beautiful new girlfriend whose name he doesn't know. And his old partner in the police department, who may well be the only person crazier than Remy, has just gotten his picture on a box of First Responder cereal.
And these are the good things in Brian Remy's life. While smoke still hangs over the city, Remy is recruited by a mysterious government agency that is assigned to gather all of the paper that was scattered in the attacks. As he slowly begins to realize that he's working for a shadowy operation, Remy stumbles across a dangerous plot, and soon realizes he's got to track down the most elusive target of them all — himself. And the only way to do that is to return to that place where everything started falling apart.
From a young novelist of astounding talent, The Zero is an extraordinary story of searing humor and sublime horror, of blindness, bewilderment, and that achingly familiar feeling that the world has suddenly stopped making sense.
"A deliriously mordant political satire, Walter's follow-up to 2005's critically acclaimed Citizen Vince begins moments after New York City cop Brian Remy shoots himself in the head. He isn't seriously wounded, and he can't remember doing it. It's less than a week after 9/11, and Brian serves as an official guide for celebrities who want a tour of 'The Zero.' With stitches still in his scalp, Brian is tapped for a job with the Documentation Department, a shadowy subagency of the Office of Liberty and Recovery, which is charged with scrutinizing every confetti scrap of paper blown across the city when the towers fell. As he learns the truth about his new employer's mission (think: recent NSA-related headlines) and becomes enmeshed in a sinister government plot, he finds an unseemly benefactor in 'The Boss,' the unnamed mayor who cashes in on his sudden national prominence. Meanwhile, Brian's cop and firemen colleagues shill for 'First Responder' cereal, his rebellious teenage son acts as if Brian died in the attack and the president provides comic background sound bites ('draw your strength from the collective courage and resilientness'). Walter's Helleresque take on a traumatic time may be too much too soon for some, but he carries off his dark and hilarious narrative with a grandly grotesque imagination. 100,000 announced first printing; 12-city author tour. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Jess Walter, whose new dark (and darkly comic) thriller opens in New York a few days following Sept. 11, 2001, does the smartest thing he could have done: He doesn't mention 9/11 by name, nor does he mention the World Trade Center or any other important person, place or thing having to do with that day. And yet we know exactly who's who and what's what. Even the book's title, 'The Zero,' is a reference... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) to Ground Zero, but by stripping away a single word, he makes the place both fresh and nightmarish all over again. Walter builds the hellish aftermath from scratch, transforming that day — and the months that follow — into a noir page-turner with powerful social commentary about the marketing of a tragedy and the endless ways in which some citizens have profited by it. When writing about the 'Zero' itself, Walter doesn't spare us details that have the ring of truth: 'Everyone knew that it stunk especially bad here, and everyone knew what the smell had to be, but no one could find the exact source. An elevator bank? A stairwell? A fire rig? A few years ago, when he was still married, Remy had kicked his kid's jack-o'-lantern underneath his porch and this was how it smelled in spring.' 'The Zero' is the story of policeman Brian Remy, whose life begins slipping out of control after the towers come down. During bouts of mysterious memory loss, Remy has been enlisted by a secret organization involved in tracking down a woman named March Selios, who worked in one of the towers but may have survived. What ensues is a cross-country hunt for clues and Remy's growing suspicion that he is committing unspeakable acts during his blackouts. Why is he searching for March? Like a character out of a Kafka novel, Remy isn't sure what the purpose of his pursuit is, and yet he pursues. A large cast of minor characters makes 'The Zero' particularly rich: Paul Guterak, Remy's old partner, who is obsessed with his newfound post-9/11 fame and can't stop talking about it; Edgar, Remy's teenage son, who enjoys the attention he receives when he tells his classmates that his father perished in one of the buildings; Markham, Remy's partner in the covert operation, who waxes philosophic on the attractiveness of deer ('I'm not saying I'd necessarily want to have sex with a deer'). Walter's deadpan dialogue rivals that in scenes from Denis Johnson's 'Jesus' Son': 'Guterak looked over. 'Hey, you got your hair cut.' ''Yeah.' Remy put the cap back on. ''What made you do that?' ''I shot myself in the head last night.' ''Well.' Paul drove quietly for a moment, staring straight ahead. 'It looks good.'' Walter nails our often surreal post-9/11 world, where exploitation of the tragedy has become commonplace. Remy spots 'rows of news trucks, two dozen of them queued up for slow troll, grief fishing, block after block — Action and Eyewitness and First At, dishes scooped to the sky like palms at a mass.' His old partner signs a deal to promote First Responder cereal. The novel falters, however, when Walter tries to sustain the credibility of Remy's frequent memory loss for 300 pages. Since we are confined to Remy's perspective, the reader experiences these lapses along with Remy. His disorientation becomes our disorientation, and his lapses raise a host of critical questions: Why is Remy remembering certain things but not others? Why does he remember 'not remembering'? The book's individual scenes are aesthetically appealing, but the reader can't get a grip on the plot's larger issues (namely, what is Remy's role in this secret organization; why does he continue doing what he's doing?). It becomes increasingly hard to care for a narrator who is unsure of his own motives and whose goals remain murky even to himself. Despite this weakness, I was still won over. Walter is an immensely talented writer. In April, his 'Citizen Vince' won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel, and now he's written a new thriller not only with a conscience but also full of dead-on insights into our culture and its parasitic response to a national tragedy. John McNally, author of 'America's Report Card,' teaches at Wake Forest University." Reviewed by John McNally, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"This book's heightened paranoia invites the asking of more questions, from why cellphones need to take pictures to why a piece of cake is so much more than its component parts." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"The Zero has far broader appeal than most mockery of the current administration. Comedy is funny when it's true, and the ragged conspiracy theories of jesters from Michael Moore on down aren't funny because they aren't true. Mr. Walter's comic exaggerations are, like those in Joseph Heller's Catch-22, true on some level." Wall Street Journal
"A strange, surreal novel that is part thriller, part romance and part Kafkaesque farce." Oregonian
"The book's individual scenes are aesthetically appealing, but the reader can't get a grip on the plot's larger issues....Despite this weakness, I was still won over. Walter is an immensely talented writer." Washington Post
"The last thing Americans need, at this point in history, is another sanctification of the horrors of 9/11. What they need...are books that expose the fresh horrors this sanctification has wrought." Los Angeles Times
Can a man ever realize that he's been the villain of his own story?
The Zero is a groundbreaking novel, a darkly comic snapshot of our times that is already being compared to the works of Franz Kafka and Joseph Heller.
From its opening pages—when hero cop Brian Remy wakes up to find he's shot himself in the head—novelist Jess Walter takes us on a harrowing tour of a city and a country shuddering through the aftershocks of a devastating terrorist attack. As the smoke slowly clears, Remy finds that his memory is skipping, lurching between moments of lucidity and days when he doesn't seem to be living his own life at all. The landscape around him is at once fractured and oddly familiar: a world dominated by a Machiavellian mayor known as "The Boss," and peopled by anguished policemen, gawking celebrities, and pink real estate divas inventing new uses for tragedy. Remy himself has a new girlfriend he doesn't know, a son who pretends he's dead, and an unsettling new job chasing a trail of paper scraps for a shadowy intelligence agency known as the Department of Documentation. Whether that trail will lead Remy to an elusive terror cell—or send him circling back to himself—is only one of the questions posed by this provocative yet deeply human novel.
From a young novelist of astounding talent, The Zero is an extraordinary story of how our trials become our transgressions, of how we forgive ourselves and whether or not we should.
In the tradition of Franz Kafka, Joseph Heller, and Don DeLillo, comes this extraordinary story of searing humor and sublime horror, of blindness, bewilderment, and that achingly familiar feeling that the world has suddenly stopped making sense.
About the Author
Jess Walter is the author of The Zero, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction. His previous novel, Citizen Vince, won the Edgar Award for best novel. His other novels include Land of the Blind and Over Tumbled Graves, a New York Times Notable Book. Also an acclaimed investigative reporter, he is the author of Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family, which was made into a CBS miniseries. Walter lives in Spokane with his family.
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