Review of "Zanesville"
by Kris Saknussemm







Article by Daniel Eskridge

Zanesville by Kris Saknussemm

A man wakes up in central park with no memory save for a few disjointed images. He is soon found by a group of techno-rebels who seem an odd selection of freaks led by a former linebacker now turned transvestite. The rebels discover that the man is very well endowed, both physically and psychically. In fact, he is deemed too powerful to keep. So, they name him Clearfather, put him on a bus, and give him a map to send him across America on a voyage of discovery, but not before injecting him with...stuff (I wasn't really clear on whether it was drugs or some type of nanotechnology).

The America of today is long gone in this story. The government has been completely privatized and the country is now run through a massive "cultporation", known as Vitessa, which uses psychotropic drugs to control the population. Somehow Vitessa knows of Clearfather and fears him. They pursue him and try to eliminate him.

During his trip across the country, Clearfather discovers his extraordinary powers as he encounters a freakish and dysfunctional aristocrat family, a freakish lesbian biker gang, a freakish truck full of religious refugees, and the freakish mutant remnants of a love cult. Eventually, he ends up in a theme park laden "Los Vegas", which is, of course, full of freakish and bizarre imagery.

You'll notice that I used the word "freakish" a lot. That is because every scene and description is one of abnormality. At first, it's interesting, but after a few chapters these scenes start to lose their effect with nothing "normal" appearing for contrast, and, by halfway through the book, the constant barrage of unusual scenes tends to become a kind of literary white noise. The author seems to be trying too hard to tell the reader what it is like to use hallucinogens.

That's not to say the book was all bad. Saknussemm makes some good satirical jabs at American pop culture. I especially like the shots he takes at celebrity worship with giant celebrity robots marching down streets named for yet other celebrities. He also gets the anticonservative message across loud and clear by showing the nightmare that corporate control can turn America into. The story itself is a somewhat formulaic but still often enjoyable messianic-scifi style story that often reminded me a bit of the Matrix.

All in all though, the freakishness distracted a bit too much from the plot. However, while I've always felt that the works of Hunter S. Thompson were drug induced thought-vomit, hordes of people love his work. So, I guess there is an audience for this type of novel. Those feeling nostalgic for the anti-establishment, stream of consciousness, hallucinogenic writing style of the 1960's and 70's might enjoy this book.