Every now and again, you read a book you can't quite shake. You may not have loved it, but you can't stop thinking about it. It doesn't happen all that often to me, but it just has, and that book is The Zero by Jess Walter.
The book is a work of fiction, set in the immediate aftermath of what is essentially the horrors of 9/11. In fact, it starts on September 12, and the lead character Brian Remy has just woken up to realize that he's shot himself in the head.
Whether it's intentional or an accident even he doesn't know, and he begins losing spots of time. Remy is a cop who seems to be retiring for a bad back he knows he doesn't have, and taking on a job leading a group he doesn't understand to do things he's not quite clear about. His job - the mayor of New York - called simply The Boss, and he doesn't appear to be acting selflessly. It's worth noting that author Walter tells this entire story without using real life names, including the World Trade Center or Al Qaeda, or even Ground Zero. In fact, the title of the book represents the slang name for the spot that other police call the site of the attacks. This has the effect of both extracting politics and raw memories from the actual events from the book, while maintaining the surreal horror of that day.
What's more, Walter is a phenomenally talented writer. Witness the following:
This is a life, he thought, smooth skipping stones bounding across the surfaces of time, with brief moments of deepened consciousness as you hit the water before going airborne again, flying across the carpool lane, over weeks at a desk, enjoying yourself when the skipping stopped, and spending the rest of your life in a kind of drifting contentment, slipped consciousness, lost weekends, the glow from television sets warming placid faces, smile lines growing in the glare of the screen. He drained his wine.
This is satire, but it's also a pretty immaculate portrayal of the unsteadiness the entire nation felt after 9/11, the rudderless-ness that makes the memory of that time so surreal.
It's not a perfect book; Remy is missing gaps of time and if you crave a finite description of exactly what happens during the times he can't remember, you're going to be disappointed. The formal plot of the book does resolve in a satisfying manner and the tone is so perfect and haunting that if you are like me, you'll have a hard time putting it down.