It's difficult to give an opinion about THE ZERO by Jess Walter.
I've never met the author, though I sense upon completing his
latest book that our worldviews differ significantly. Accordingly,
I found it difficult at times to read this brilliantly written,
savagely irreverent novel; nonetheless, it was impossible to
THE ZERO primarily is about Brian Remy, a New York City police
officer who has become unhinged after the terrorist attacks of
September 11th. Remy begins to experience gaps in his life, missing
pieces that he can't account for. He seems to live his life in fits
and starts, in a world that is both utterly strange and yet
uneasily familiar. He is suddenly involved --- very involved ---
with a new girlfriend; his teenaged son pretends to be dead; and he
is on disability leave from the police department, even while he's
(apparently) employed by a shadowy intelligence organization that
fastidiously examines scraps of paper retrieved from the World
Trade Center in the hopes of preventing another attack.
Remy's partner, Paul Guterak, is along for the ride in spots,
offering nervous observations about the recovery work that are at
once horribly inappropriate and yet screamingly funny. But it is
through Remy's eyes --- notwithstanding his rapidly deteriorating
vision --- that the reader is introduced to a haunting and shifting
post-apocalyptic landscape, one that adheres to an occasionally
coherent logic. Remy's perception skips across locales and events,
so that he is left to wonder not only what has gone before, but
what is occurring in the present.
Readers have no more of an idea than Remy does as to what is
happening, so only Remy ultimately can sort things out. There is no
way to accurately guess what is going to occur next, which gives
the book an element of suspense rarely found in novels of this
nature. Walter's narrative powers of observation, demonstrated so
vividly in 2005's CITIZEN VINCE, are even more sharply defined
here, honed to a nightmarish razor's edge that is irresistible even
as it is repelling. You want to look away from the hook that
impales you, but you can't.
With THE ZERO, Walter has crafted an inappropriate and irresistible
novel that may well be the defining work of the defining moment of
our age. Sure to be as controversial as it is well-written, you
will either want to burn it or hail it. Or both.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011