This is the third Colson Whitehead book I've read, and every time I finish one I think: "What the heck did I just read?" Which is cool! Good for him, doing what he's doing. But also: what the heck did I just read.
I was skeptical at first. The book is divided into 3 sections, but it covers a lot of ground. The way the author weaves back and forth between the past and the present is pretty masterful. I kept turning back a few pages to be like "Wait, how did he do that." But it also leaves you slightly at sea--it's not just that you suddenly find yourself in the past tense, it's that he layers imaginary stuff on top of the past tense. Telling a story about a character and then describing them walking away from an explosion in slow motion. There are things happening, things that happened, and things that didn't happen and he combines them all in a pretty unique way, but it requires some getting used to.
The main character (Mark Spitz) is described as boring, average, of no particular description or interest. And there are reasons for that in the story, but it's also kind of accurate. It was hurdle, in the first part of the book, getting invested in him at all. BECAUSE, wait for it, there's a secondary character named Kaitlyn. She's their squad leader as they go through the city, finding and killing the remaining zombies. She's described as a straight A's high school over-achiever, slightly Type A, the type of person who follows rules and regulations to a T and gets stressed when that's not impossible. And I just kept thinking: why aren't we following her instead? It's a different book, sure, slightly campier, but maybe both funnier and scarier. This is not the first time I've complained about books where we are given a boring male protagonist while the sidelines are filled with more interesting females, so fine, this is my thing, this is my axe. It's my thing for a reason.
The book came alive for me in the 2nd and 3rd sections. I was glad I stuck with it. It never really got scary, unfortunately, but the histories he gives in the middle section feel really vivid and vital, in a way they didn't up front for some reason. The story about Mim and the toy store was sad, and sudden, and just felt very true to life. And the ending is perfect for this book.
So, it's a zombie book, but it's not super terrifying or filled with dread. The protagonist won't do much for you. The entire book hinges on this idea that there are two kinds of zombies, which I really liked, but it's kind of a set-up, and maybe the idea wasn't taken far enough. There are a bunch of names and only a few of the characters are even half-sketched, so it's very difficult to track who is who. But it's a pretty zippy read, and if you like zombie lit at all, you should definitely read it. It gets better and better as it goes on.
It is not a spoiler to say that my favorite thing about the book was how much vitriol the author has towards Connecticut. It's not totally clear what went down in Connecticut during the zombie apocalypse, but it obviously totally sucked, and was basically exactly what you'd expect from Connecticut in such an event. A+