Under the Radar: Jess Walter’s The Zero and the State of Irony and Satire after 9/11

Dolores Resano


This article explores a typically overlooked novel within the corpus of post-9/11 fiction, Jess Walter’s The Zero (2006), and puts forward some hypotheses for this under-examination. The article suggests that the various debates that arose in the aftermath of 9/11—the status of fiction after tragedy, the theses on the demise of irony and satire, the high expectations put on canonical authors to give meaning to the event, and standardized explorations of the figure of the terrorist Other—all served to construct readings for The Zero that fell within prescriptive approaches to post-9/11 fiction and thus missed its highly subversive potential. While recent academic output is starting to explore The Zero in innovative ways, early reception failed to examine it conceptually and formally, favoring as it did a trauma studies approach that resulted in a bland analysis of the novel’s focus on terrorist figures. This article offers a reading of The Zero through Mikhail Bakhtin’s theorization of satirical carnivalization, a practice that is especially suited to construct a dialogic, polyphonic and inquisitive narrative to not only question but dialogue with the post-9/11 United States.

Keywords: post-9/11 fiction; irony; satire; counter-discourse; carnivalization; perpetrator fiction

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