Top positive review
Literary Horror At Its Best
Reviewed in the United States on March 10, 2017
To be fair to readers, I need to say at the outset that although this novel technically fits in the Zombie Apocalypse genre, it really is something much more than that. Readers looking for an old-fashioned, gut-munching zombie adventure tale (and I enjoy those, too) will likely be disappointed, so please be advised. I try not to mislead anyone in my reviews, so I wanted to be clear on this. However, if you enjoy horror fiction that aspires to social commentary, political satire, and cultural critique, then this is a move you definitely don't want to miss. Think George Romero zombie films on politically radical steroids.
The novel begins where so many zombie novels end… after the zombie pandemic has largely run its course, and surviving humans are now on the offensive, trying to simultaneously eradicate the remaining zombies and rebuild society. The protagonist, know only by the nickname Mark Spitz due to an anecdote I won't spoil here, is very much a self-proclaimed master of mediocrity. Before the zombie plague, he excelled at simply getting by in life… always square in the middle, always doing the bare minimum. But in new the post-plague world order, he finds that the qualities of merely getting by are the best one can have in this not-so-brave new world. Employed as a "sweeper"-- a somewhat-militarized combatant tasked with sweeping lower Manhattan of the remaining zombies with well-placed head shots--Mark serves as the novel's chronicler of the outbreak and the attempt to rebuild America (now called the American Phoenix) from the ashes of a near apocalypse.
But Whitehead has larger targets than the zombies, as he deftly critiques the structural inequalities, rampant conspicuous consumption,crises of identity, and corporate hegemony of the 21st century U.S. In many ways, this novel is more similar to political horror novels like 1984, Brave New World, Beloved, and even Heart of Darkness than it is to mainstream zombie fiction. His writing is elegant, poetic… line after line of prose that leaps from the page with thick descriptions of the politics of everyday life. It's not an easy read, as the narrative twists and turns, looping back on itself through flashbacks and oral histories of Last Night (as the onset of the plague is described). If you are a fan of highly literate horror fiction… or just highly literate writing in general… then this is a novel not to be missed.