Jess Walter: The Zero

No reason why you should be, but if you’re looking for a novel to read, I can recommend The Zero by Jess Walter.

From what I can tell, the book isn’t selling too well, despite the publishers’ 100,000 copy print run. The problem is not that The Zero is a bad novel (I enjoyed it tremendously), but it’s completely uncategorisable. It’s funny, but it’s not a comedy. It’s very well written, but it’s not a “literary” novel. It’s full of cops and mysteries, but it’s not a thriller. It’s full of glaringly obvious narrative tricks and devices, but it’s not as pretentious as that sounds. In fact, it seems to have a charming sense of its own silliness, and I spent much of the novel marveling at how the author prevents the book – time and time again – from collapsing into a mess. I guess ultimately The Zero is a very dark 9/11 satire – but it has too much heart to be genuinely satirical.

Here’s a very short extract. Markham and Remy are cops/agents, staking out a restaurant, looking for a terror suspect. Remy, as for most of the novel, has little idea where he is, or what he’s doing there. (His mind is full of…gaps…)


Markham turned the page of his magazine. “Hey, Brian, do you know how much time deer spend with their mates?”
“Try to guess.”
“I don’t know.”
“I know you don’t know. That’s why I want you to guess. If you knew, you wouldn’t be guessing, you’d be telling me, and what would be the point of that?”
“Uh…their whole lives?”
“Nope. One day. You believe it? One day. An entire species of animal capable of nothing but one-night-stands. Isn’t that perfect? I mean, if you’re a deer?”
Remy let the binoculars fall to his lap. “I don’t know.”
“Don’t you think deer are kind of sexy? For an animal?”
“I…I couldn’t say,” Remy said.
“I do. Not…you know, for me, specifically. I’m not saying I’d necessarily want to have sex with a deer. But just the way they’re put together, big asses and long legs, they’re kind of like people. And those cute little faces. Shoot, I’d do a deer. I mean, if I was a deer. You know? I can’t say that about every animal. If I was a hippo? Nope. Or a racoon or something? I’d just be celibate. Or a cat? No way. You’d think we’d be more attracted to gorillas or other primates, but other than those little spider monkeys, I just don’t see it. But deer…I don’t know, I find it kind of evocative, the idea of all these bucks nailing those leggy does once a year and then just running off into the woods.”
Remy put the binoculars to his eyes again. A man was moving down the alley away from the back door, his back to Remy, carrying a plastic grocery bag, walking toward a car parked in the alley. “Are we looking for someone?”


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