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THE ZERO by Jess Walter Kirkus Star


by Jess Walter

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 2006
ISBN: 0-06-089865-8

Five days after 9/11, Brian Remy, hero cop, first responder, wanders his city like a shell-shocked pilgrim in this brilliant tour-de-force that’s as heartrending as it is harrowing.

Startled by an explosive noise, Remy’s landlady threatens to call the police. “I am the police,” Remy says, though he’s not sure he spoke aloud. Nor is he sure that his gunshot scalp wound isn’t self-inflicted. In the days and weeks that follow, Remy realizes he’s sure of very little. There’s a girl he’s in love with—that much he knows—whose name he can’t recall. He has a job, a recent government appointment, and he thinks it has something to do with the nation’s security, but it’s shadowy, and it scares him, because it seems to involve behavior that a part of him considers reprehensible. That’s unsettling, too—that he’s now being thrust into dark and unfamiliar places that have the potential to convert him into “the villain of his own story.” Most troubling of all, though, are the gaps. “I can’t keep track of anything anymore,” he complains. But in the suddenly Kafkaesque world he inhabits, no one will listen to him. And so he lives his life through a series of mystifying vignettes. He’ll find himself in bed with April, his lover, unable to remember how he got there. In the next moment, he’s participating in an ugly interrogation. Or he’s with his unlovely estranged wife. Or his traumatized ex-partner—a slipping in and slipping out, abrupt and inexplicable. Or is it all, in April’s phrase, “a fever dream”?

This is the breakout novel of a brave and talented young writer (Citizen Vance, 2005, etc.), though for some, it will seem so uncompromisingly chilling that it will be too much.