Sunday 17 January 2010

The Zero by Jess Walter: Review

Jess Walter

The Zero
By Jess Walter (see right)
Published in 2006
Published by Harper Perennial
ISBN: 978-0-06-118943-2

I bought this book for myself and reviewed of my own accord (and because I will include it in my thesis eventually).

My reading of this novel unintentionally mirrored the narrative - there were unexplained gaps and absences in my reading attention - and as a result I took a lot longer to complete this book than I would otherwise have. It's not a reflection on how much I enjoyed it, though.

The novel opens with the protagonist, Brian Remy, waking in a dreamlike state after he has just tried unsuccessfully to shoot himself in the head. Remy used to be a cop in New York but since the events of September 11th, has taken on another government intelligence type role, the details of which remain vague throughout the story as even Remy himself doesn't appear to know what it is he does. You see, Remy suffers from some sort of memory issue (or mental illness?) that sees him lurching through life in fits and patches. He 'comes to' in strange places like a restaurant or on a park bench with no idea how he got there, why he is there nor the identity of the person with whom he is talking. This lack of awareness haunts him and becomes increasingly problematic as Remy starts to suspect he is entangled in some kind of shady government investigation.

Jess Walter works narrative miracles on the pages of this book. The breaks in Remy's conscience leave you confused yet intrigued; frustrated yet unable to tear yourself away. As the novel progresses the reader gets a strong sense of being pulled down the plughole into the darkest recesses of the American conscience where fear rules and reality and fantasy are impossible to distinguish. The Zero is a wonderfully layered and complex piece of fiction which can be read at several different levels. At the most basic level it is an engaging page-turner that will keep you guessing right until the very end but for those who like to dig a little deeper there is a powerful examination of how the events of 9/11 have frayed the social fabric of American society.

If you're looking for a serious piece of fiction that will make you think, I'd strongly recommend that you pick this up. It's given me so many ideas for my post 9/11 lit thesis, it's untrue. A stellar book.

Other works of fiction by Jess Walter:
- Over Tumbled Graves (2001)
- The Land of the Blind (2003)
- Citizen Vince (2005)
- The Financial Lives of Poets (2009)


  1. This sounds interesting. Thanks for the great review, Kath.

    By the way, I have an award for you. :)

  2. Nice review, Kath! I just ordered this book based on your review and how much I enjoyed "The Financial Lives of Poets." Cheers! -GZ

  3. I read The Financial Lives of the Poets last fall and really enjoyed it. Walter is definitely not afraid to take on tough subjects.

  4. Helen: Woohoo! How awesome! Thank you very much :)

    Greg: Hope you like this book! It really is a good one, great food for thought. Thanks for the comments, as always! :D

    Lisa: No he certainly isn't! And he does it brilliantly. I think I need to read Financial Lives - you and Greg have convinced me! Thanks for the comment :)