The Zero and the One

Ryan Ruby. Hachette/Twelve, $14.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6518-4
It isn’t a spoiler to reveal that one of the protagonists of this deliciously gothic debut—Zach—commits suicide, nor that he has help from Owen, a bookish type he befriends during a study abroad program at Oxford. But what keeps the pages turning is the deliberately paced disclosure of how Zach’s original plan for a suicide pact goes horribly awry. Or, does it? The first chapter finds Owen on his way to New York for Zach’s funeral. Subsequent sections alternate between Owen’s getting to know Zach’s well-off family—especially his fiercely magnetic and mysterious twin sister, Vera—during his weeklong stay in the city and flashbacks to Zach and Owen’s burgeoning bond over existential philosophy, wooing classmates Tori and Claire, and flouting snooty Oxford tradition. Both threads are skillfully plotted and equally intriguing, especially when Vera and the secrets she’s hiding take center stage. The novel’s trick is that none of the characters are especially in the know at any given point—each has a blind spot. Though astute readers might see the ending coming, its over-the-top intensity and sheer depravity still register quite an impact. It’s also a testament to Ruby’s powers of persuasion that questions remain even after the circumstances surrounding Zach’s death are finally unmasked. Who was really at fault? Was it—and what happened afterward—inevitable? An undeniably propulsive read. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2017
Release date: 03/07/2017
Genre: Fiction
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