The Zero

The Zero

by Jess Walter


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The Zero is a groundbreaking novel, a darkly comic snapshot of our times that is already being compared to the works of Franz Kafka and Joseph Heller.

From its opening pages—when hero cop Brian Remy wakes up to find he's shot himself in the head—novelist Jess Walter takes us on a harrowing tour of a city and a country shuddering through the aftershocks of a devastating terrorist attack. As the smoke slowly clears, Remy finds that his memory is skipping, lurching between moments of lucidity and days when he doesn't seem to be living his own life at all. The landscape around him is at once fractured and oddly familiar: a world dominated by a Machiavellian mayor known as "The Boss," and peopled by gawking celebrities, anguished policemen peddling First Responder cereal, and pink real estate divas hyping the spoils of tragedy. Remy himself has a new girlfriend he doesn't know, a son who pretends he's dead, and an unsettling new job chasing a trail of paper scraps for a shadowy intelligence agency known as the Department of Documentation. Whether that trail will lead Remy to an elusive terror cell—or send him circling back to himself—is only one of the questions posed by this provocative yet deeply human novel.

From a novelist of astounding talent, The Zero is an extraordinary story of how our trials become our transgressions, of how we forgive ourselves and whether or not we should.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061189432
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/07/2007
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 388,057
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, the winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His short fiction has appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. He lives in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.


Spokane, Washington

Date of Birth:

July 20, 1965

Place of Birth:

Spokane, Washington


B.A., Eastern Washington University, 1987

Read an Excerpt

The Zero

A Novel
By Jess Walter

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Jess Walter
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060898658

Chapter One

They burst into the sky, every bird in creation, angry and agitated, awakened by the same primary thought, 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. All the little birds were paper. Fluttering and circling and growing bigger, falling bits and frantic sheets, some smoking, corners scorched, flaring in the open air until there was nothing left but a fine black edge . . . and then gone, a hole and nothing but the faint memory of smoke. Behind the burning flock came a great wail and a moan as seething black unfurled, the world inside out, birds beating against a roiling sky and in that moment everything that wasn't smoke was paper. And it was beautiful.

"Brian? Is everything okay in there?"

Brian Remy's eyes streaked and flaked and finally jimmied open to the floor of his apartment. He was lying on his side, panning across a fuzzy tree line of carpet fiber. From this, the world focused into being one piece at a time: Boots caked in dried mud. Pizza boxes. Newspapers. A glass. And something just out of range . . .

The flecks in his eyes alerted and scattered and his focus adjusted again: sorrow of sorrows, an empty Knob Creek bottle. They were both tipped over on their right sides on the rug, parallel to one another, the whiskey fifth and him. In this together, apparently. He told himself to breathe, and managed a rusty-lunged wheeze. He blinked and the streaks and floaters ran across his eyes for cover. Outside Remy's apartment, Mrs. Lubach yelled again. "Brian, I heard a bang! Is everything okay?"

Remy had heard no bang himself, although he tended to believe literalists like Mrs. Lubach. Anyway, a bang of some sort would explain the muffled ringing in his ears. And how it hurt to move his head. He strained to raise his chin and saw, to his right, just past the bottle, his handgun, inert and capable of nothing but lying among the crumbs and hairs on his carpet. If he waited long enough, a rubber-gloved hand would pick it up by the butt and drop it in a Ziploc, tagged and bagged--and him too, as long he didn't move, a bigger bag, but the same--thick plastic the last thing he smelled before the last sigh of the reefer truck door.

Mrs. Lubach's voice came muffled from behind the door: "Brian? I'm going to call the police."

"I am the police." His own voice was tinny and small inside his skull; he wasn't sure the words had actually come out of his mouth.


He sat up on the floor and looked around his studio apartment: collapsed futon, patched plaster walls, paint-sealed windows. He put his hand against the left side of his head. His hair was sticky and matted, as if he'd been lying in syrup. He pulled his hand away. Sure. Blood.

Okay. Coming together now.

He called to the door, louder: "Just a minute, Mrs. Lubach."

Brian Remy stood, queasy and weak, trying once again to find the loose string between cause and effect--long day, drink, sorrow, gunshot, fatigue. Or some other order. Steadied on the stove, he grabbed a dish towel and held its fringed end against his head. He looked back at the table and could see it all laid out before him, like the set of a student play. A kitchen chair was tipped over, and on the small table where he had been sitting, a self-determinate still life: rag, shot glass, gun oil, wire brush, note.

Okay. This was the problem. These gaps in his memory, or perhaps his life, a series of skips--long shredded tears, empty spaces where the explanations for the most basic things used to be. For a moment he tried to puzzle over it all, the way he might have considered a problem on the job. Cleaning oil might indicate an accident, but the note? What lunatic has ever written a note before . . .

Cleaning a gun?

He picked up the note: "Etc . . ."

Et cetera?

Well, that was funny. He didn't recall being so funny. And yet there it was, in his own handwriting. Okay. He was getting somewhere. Whatever had happened, whatever he'd done, it was funny. Remy stuffed the note in his pocket, then righted the chair and bent over to pick up his nine, wobbled, set the safety, and laid the gun gently on the table.


"I'm coming." He followed the path to the wall and put his finger in the fresh hole in the brick behind his chair. Then he stepped away from the wall and held the dish towel to his head, braced against a slithering jolt of pain, and when it passed, walked to the door. He opened it a crack on the hallway outside his apartment, Mrs. Lubach's orange face filling the gap between door and jamb.

"Brian? Is everything okay? It's three o'clock in the morning."

"Is it?"

"There are noise ordinances, Brian." Her voice echoed a split second behind the movement of her mouth, like a badly translated movie. "Rules," she continued. "And that bang. People work. We have jangly nerves, Brian. If you're not hurt, then it's inconsiderate, all that noise."

"What if I am hurt?"

Mrs. Lubach ignored him. "Just imagine what we thought that noise could have been." She was small and lean, with short straight white hair and wide features; her heavy makeup was painted on just a fraction off-center, giving her the look of a hastily painted figurine, or a foosball goalie. Before, she had been an accountant. Now, he thought he remembered, she wasn't sure what she would be. Would people just go back to the same jobs? As if nothing had happened? "For all we know the air might be combustible," she said now.


Excerpted from The Zero by Jess Walter Copyright © 2006 by Jess Walter. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Zero 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
jbeem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
a cop post 9/11, shady dealings, written like momemto but never really comes together
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Willeo More than 1 year ago
I always enjoy reading novels by Jess Walter, and I am always impressed by his ability to tell a really excellent story while emphasizing so many important and timely themes. This novel is another great example of those abilities. The main narrative is a wildly entertaining thriller, told in dissociative flashes and brief cryptic moments, it's a page-turner where the final piece doesn't fall into place until the very last pages. What really impressed me about this book is how perceptive the author was to have written this book in 2006. Walter hits on important contemporary issues faced by Americans in a post 9/11 world. He raises questions about torture, executive authority, agency jurisdiction, post-traumatic stress disorder-- all issues that have been covered by the media since the fall of the Towers in 2001. Walter also hints at the forthcoming financial crisis as one character breaks down over the arbitrary nature of mortgage backed securities-- and this book was written in 2006, well before most Americans knew anything about the mortgage debacle that was to bring down the U.S. economy in 2008. While Walter's subsequent novel, The Financial Lives of the Poets, deals with the financial crisis in more detail, I did find it interesting that he seemed to be on top of this issue so early.
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If I were to rate this book solely on (a complete version of) parts 1 and 2, I probably would have given it 5 stars. I loved the surrealism, and the writing in parts 1 and 2. They were beautifully written. But the book just completely lost me at part 3.
SeattleRose More than 1 year ago
Jess Walter is an absolutely original writer. All of his books reveal a sharp wit and the ability to completely inhabit a character and The Zero is no exception. This is not another Ground Zero book. This is a look at the lives of 3-dimensional characters that happens to take place after 9-11. It is captivating and heartbreaking, capturing much of the fallout (physical and emotional) of that event and its aftermath. This could easily have devolved into sentimentality or caricatured depictions of first responders and victims, but Walter keeps it straight, with vivid descriptions of the City, the people, and the events and a concise writing style full of energy and original perspective. Highly recommended.
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