by Jess Walter
HarperCollins e-book, 2009
Reviewed by Laura Albritton
Let me confess: I don’t usually read thrillers or suspense novels. They’re just not my cup of java. But I’ll gladly admit that “The Zero” by Jess Walter completely floored me. Author Walter has written a 9/11 tale with an intricately crafted plot and superb prose that should place him right up there with the finest American novelists.
The story opens as first responder and cop Brian Remy tries to find his footing in the days after the Twin Towers fell. He recalls, “They burst into the sky, every bird in creation, angry and agitated…erupting in a white feathered cloudburst, anxious and graceful, angling in ever-tightening circles toward the ground, drifting close enough to touch, and then close enough to see that it wasn’t a flock of birds at all – it was paper. Burning scraps of paper.” Through Remy’s eyes we see, smell, and feel every detail at “the Zero” (Ground Zero), in flashbacks and as workers begin to clear enormous piles of rubble…and human remains.
Traumatized, Remy discovers that his eyesight is impaired by floaters and strings of light; he’s also afflicted by strange “gaps” of consciousness, after which he can’t remember what happened. His son Edgar, also distraught by the terrorist attack, decides to mourn for Remy as though he were dead.
Walter ramps up the intrigue when our hero is recruited by a shady agency to investigate March Selios, a worker who suddenly fled one Tower just before her office was destroyed. Was she warned? Perhaps by her Muslim ex-boyfriend, a possible jihadist?
Remy finds himself romantically involved with the missing woman’s sister, as he plunges into a dangerous netherworld. One of his informants observes, “I have always believed there are two kinds of people: those whose every day is a battle to rise up, and those whose every day is a battle to fit in. …That is the only war, between the risers and the fitters.” Whether March Selios actually survived 9/11, and what Remy truly experiences versus what he hallucinates, are mysteries that will keep you hooked until the alarming, unsettling end.
Guidebook author and book reviewer Laura Albritton has a brand new travel blog, Island Runaways (www.IslandRunaways.com).