cover image Zero Zone

Zero Zone

Scott O’Connor. Counterpoint, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-64009-373-7

O’Connor’s harrowing, dexterous thriller (after the collection A Perfect Universe) delves into the impact of an art installation on a group of emotionally disturbed characters. In 1977, Los Angeles installation artist Jess Shepard processes the defining moments of her childhood—a near drowning when she was 11 and the death of her parents in a car accident two years later—by building “Zero Zone,” a concrete building in the New Mexico desert, near a defunct nuclear testing site. Then a group of religious seekers converge and occupy the site, leading to a violent showdown with law enforcement. A month later, teenage Izzy, one of the seekers who was at the site, confronts Jess at a Los Angeles gallery opening and sprays her with a mysterious toxic gas. When Izzy is released two years later from juvenile detention, her life and Jess’s intersect again. O’Connor moves nimbly among points of view and shuffles back and forth in time, allowing the reader to piece the story together, only to zoom out and reveal thatJess’s relationship with the seekers is more complicated than it intially seemed. With a noir tone and a rich assortment of characters whose lives unfold in chapters pared down to their essentials, the novel transforms a would-be abstract meditation on the influence of art into a vital, deeply engaging work. Writing with verve and precision, O’Connor serves up a thoughtful, original thriller. Agent: Yishai Seidman, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Oct.)