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He crashed back into himself and felt the Easter evening damp. Dolls and chains hung in ritual fashion from the branches surrounding him, and through the knife-hacked oak trees he could make out great luminous spires and domes, and older, grim, but luxuriant blocks of apartments sealed with steel-plate louvers as if against attack. Beside these rose skeletal scaffoldings on which, judging from the hives of lights, whole families perched on open-air platforms while resourceful or desperate individuals dangled in slings and sacks suspended from guy wires. Across the sky, as though projected from behind the sulfur-tinged clouds, flashed pictograms and iridescent banks of hypertext. The word vitessawas repeated often . . . and slogans like efram-zev . . . the right mood at the right time.He felt hypnotized by the messages, information raining down like some new kind of radiation. Then there were streams of news images and giant flickering headlines . . . al-waqi'a still a threat . . . voyancy links now halfprice. . . He'd been standing there for a long time, he thought, having woken suddenly by the fountain, amazed to find that his hair was long and so blond it almost seemed to glow in the dark.
It reminded him of a childhood story but he couldn't pin it down. Then he realized that of much greater concern was that he couldn't remember where he was. It was a park of some kind, a vast shadowy garden in some siren-filled city. But which one? He heard a voice . . . garbled and yet unnaturally clear, seeming to come from inside his head. I'll take Manhattan. It was a man's voice, both far away and far too close. What did that mean . . . to takeManhattan? He tried to shake himself out of his haze. Something terrible had happened. Drugs, head injury. "I don't remember my name!" he said aloud, and felt his heart pound at the implication. Even his clothes seemed strange . . . navy cotton drawstring pants, Guatemalan slip-ons, a T-shirt that said i've been to wall drug, and a cream-colored windbreaker with a logo on the chest that showed a wheelbarrow with flames rising out of it.
Judging from the grime and odor he might have been sleeping in the bushes for several nights. But Manhattan meant New York, that much he did think was right. Was that where he was? All he could bring to mind was waking with a start with some intuition of danger. Then he heard what he couldn't decide was the same voice or another and glanced around frantically. It said, For I came down from heaven, not to do mine will, but the will of him who sent me. Shit, he thought. I'm hallucinating. Then a sudden deep sense of alarm brought his whole being alive. There was another sound in the outer darkness. Someone or something was approaching. Seeking him out. Clip clopcame the echoes that his hyperanxious ears filtered out . . . from the tunnel. He hid behind the bushes behind the fountain. His vision seemed to blur and his head filled with static. He waited, muscles cramping. Out of the black maw they emerged at last, one on a large chestnut horse, the other on a bay. The horses were shielded with synthetic face and chestplates, while the riders wore old-fashioned NYPD uniforms. When the figures stopped, he could see that they didn't have faces. Just flat sheets with scanner slits. Up close, in the sodium lights, the scan masks were scraped and cloudy.
From the south came bursts of gunfire and thudding low-frequency music, but here it was quiet enough to hear their echolocation sonar. His heart bounced as he smelled the tense, strangely sweet animal scent of the horses. At last a flare of static passed between the two mounted shapes. Then, just as they'd appeared, they moved on, the horses' hooves striking the asphalt with a timeless Roman rhythm, their imposing silhouettes fading into the trees. The moment they were past, from behind one of the spraypainted boulders, a figure wrapped in matte-black cable tape wearing an NV helmet leapt out. "Yer ass is lucky," the shadow said, grabbing one of his hands in a neoprene fighting glove--weaving through a labyrinth of stripped cars and barbed-wire effigies. They looked like origami contrasted with the turrets rising above the park, armorguard facets gleaming like reptilian crystals. "Hurry," his guide called out. "Meter says you gonna have a meltdown." The darkness became a membrane of endlessly falling slowmotion snow, only the flakes were like glass faces, painfully intricate but beautiful to behold. "This way!" the figure called, and it was like stepping through a wall of cool white light.
Suddenly, all around were people. He felt a dart of warmth hit his arm. Then he fell, and he seemed to keep falling, or rising, as if he'd been taken up inside a whirlwind, faces and disintegrated memories orbiting around him. A whirlwind,he remembered. I came here by whirlwind. When at last the spinning stopped, the bodies and the faces had stabilized, and standing over him was a large black woman who, as his eyes began to focus, he came to see was in fact a man, wearing makeup, an aqua wig, and a long African-style robe over sheepskin boots from which a Beretta Cheetah was just visible. "We've given you some ZENO," the vision informed him. "Try not to move fast."
He was lying in a tent on an old cot. Candles glowed. Through a gelpane window he could see people passing between radomes and tepees. He heard an accordion and smelled marsala. Sparks rose from oil drums.
"Yo," a voice behind him said, and he saw it was the tape-mailed figure who'd found him minus the night-vision helmet--a Puerto Rican girl of about sixteen with a pigskin face graft that suggested a dark market burn ward.
"Who are you?" the large black woman/man asked.
He tried to focus. He couldn't get over his long blond hair. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him and yet for all the hardness of muscle, his skin was smooth. Except for the terrible burning he felt now on his back. That's what made me black out, he realized. Pain. Pain from the skin of my back. There was something there but he couldn't bring himself to think of it. Voices rustled in his brain . . . Last hope . . . Psyche War. . . beneath the sadness of a blues guitar drifting in on the night wind from somewhere far away--or deeper inside himself.
"Do you know who you are?" the large black woman/man repeated, but he couldn't answer.
Who were these people and what did they want? Where had he been going when he fell out of the whirlwind? To meet someone, he thought. To find someone. There's somewhere I have to be. There's someone I have to be.
"That's all right," the dark-skinned giant said.
"Let's start with where you are. You're in New York City. In a part of Central Park that no one but us knows exists. We call it Fort Thoreau. It's a kind of sanctuary. We refer to ourselves as the Satyagrahi, and I'm Aretha Nightingale."
So saying, the speaker brought over a psykter of purified water and poured a cup for him, carefully considering the man's whiteblond hair and tomorrow-staring eyes. There was something intriguingly familiar and at the same time deeply foreign about this night visitor. He was of average height and certainly less than average weight, but he radiated a presence that filled the tent.
The man drank some water and said, "You're a--"
"A drag queen? That's right, honey, I am!"
In fact the speaker looked like a former linebacker trying very hard to imitate some forgotten disco singer like Donna Summer.
"Used to be a lawyer. Lead counsel for the largest insurance company in the world. Lived a few blocks away. Of course I had to keep my private life secret. Then one day I saw I had to get out of the limo and back behind the mule. But that's another story. That's my story. Tinkerbell says the Securitors let you skiddo."
The PR girl winked, laser-edging a frozen-forged Gerber blade.
"Is someone after you?" Aretha asked, noticing again how long and blond the odd man's hair was, how outwardly strained and yet internally resilient he appeared. "
I don't know . . . I can't . . ." Aretha picked up a detector and ran it over him. The device recorded an electromagnetic disturbance of an unknown kind.
"So do you have any idea who you are?"
"N-no. I . . . don't . . . ," the man said, staring around at the walls of the tent, which he saw through the gloom were decorated with chintzy Chinese fans, kimonos, and ostrich feathers.
"And you don't know how you got here?" Aretha prodded. The blond man thought for a minute. Beyond the crazy idea of falling out of a whirlwind all he remembered was staring at the syringes in the fountain and then being seized with a scorching pain across his back.
"No," he said finally. "I only remember the things on horses."
"We're going to give you a bioscan," Aretha announced. "The psychometer that Tink had shorted out on you. You had a brainwave reading that we've never seen before. Makes Saint Anthony's Syndrome and Pandora withdrawal look like an attack of the jitters. Is there anything else that comes to mind . . . right this minute?"
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Zanesville by Kris Saknussemm 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.
2. We meet several different types of families throughout the course of the book, both literal blood-related families and chosen or accidental families–tribes of circumstance. What are some of the conclusions about the definition of a family offered by the novel? How does the story make you feel about the role and the responsibilities of the individual within a family unit? In your view, which characters behave the most honorably in this regard?
3. Two major questions that contemporary speculative fiction frequently focuses on are What does it mean to be human? and What is real? What kind of answers or suggestions does this story put forward? Is there a link between humanity and reality in the book, and if so, what is it?
4. Each of the major female characters can be said to have a special gift. What are they and how do they influence Clearfather?
5. Dr. Tadd puts forward the argument that trivia is important–that knowing what type of animal a certain cartoon character is may be more significant than it appears. Why does he say this? What role does the exchange of such information play in people’s lives?
6. Dooley Duck tells us there is hope for us all because of what happened to him. Why does he see himself as an inspirational figure?
7. Stinky Wiggler makes the point that Clearfather and Blind Lemon have one major thing in common, which he values above all else. How does Wiggler phrase this characteristic and what do you think he means?
8. Wiggler calls his enemy APPARATUS. How would you describe this adversary? What other names might apply?
9. The novel advances the concept that Ideas are alive, that they are creatures with an independent existence from humans. If you had to defend this proposition, which ideas would you point to?
10. The story tells of both a physical and a psychological/spiritual journey. By the end of the book, what do you think the most important lesson Clearfather has learned? Are the discoveries worth the price? Does he ultimately act wisely or selfishly? Can selfishness ever be wise?
11. Issues for Further Discussion
A. The author Kris Saknussemm has said that he has had two abiding life interests:
The private obsessive theme park-shrines of what are termed “Outsider Artists,” some examples of which are The Ideal Palace of Ferdinand Cheval, Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Reverend Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden and Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain, among many others.
The relationship between Magic, Religion and Science.
How do these two personal fascinations express themselves in Zanesville?
What sort of personal shrines on whatever scale do you know of in your own life? Do you have one, however small–or even secret?
Do you think that we live in an age of Magic, Religion or Science?
B. When asked in an interview what was the seed crystal for writing the book, Saknussemm indicated that it was the following quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your own private heart is true for all men–that is genius.”
Why is this observation both empowering and uplifting and also dangerous and disturbing? It was made a century and a half ago–does it have more or less relevance today?
Posted May 16, 2006
Readers picking up this book looking for Ben Bova sci-fi will be in for a shock. Saknussemm is aiming higher, harder, louder, wider, farther, and deeper all at once. In a dystopic America controlled by the Vitessa Cultporation, an amnesiac named Clearfather wakes up in Central Park with a mysterious phrase carved on his back and apparent mental powers. Is he the key that will end Vitessa's reign on America? Or is he a timebomb that will destroy us all? As Clearfather journeys across middle America in search of his past, it becomes obvious that Saknussemm is questioning and redeeming the power of the individual in a chaotic America increasingly infatuated with groupthink. Think Murakami and Pynchon on juice. Ambition far too rare in today's literary fiction.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 20, 2005
Many of the sources and influences are familiar but the end result is like nothing I¿ve ever read before. I would go so far as to say that this novel makes most works of contemporary fiction seem either scrawny or overinflated. One can only wonder where this guy¿s been hiding and what in the world he will come up with next because Zanesville breaks through all the barriers into a world of its ownWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
He wakes up confused as he is not sure who he is, or why he is in the middle of what he assumes is a distorted Central Park, nor how he became middle-aged. He vaguely recalls some childhood moments though they are not lucid and even his humongous by even Deep Throat standard¿s maleness seems more like an anime. --- Dubbed Clearfather he travels across America seeking to find himself, but receives no assistance as the federal government has been outsourced to the monopoly drug manufacturer, Vitessa Cultporation. Instead he uncovers disposal sex, massive drug-addiction, combative mutilated lesbian motorcycle gangs, organ donors for breakfast, gay heavyweights and the probable creator, but no Clearfather. --- ZANESVILLE is an interesting futuristic picture that extrapolates the problems of current day America with two trends losing the drug wars (from within) and outsourcing the entire federal government (Mussolini would enjoy this vision). The panorama is bleak as groups battle one another for a crumb while Big Brother is the future corporation that takes on legendary cult status. The excess battle scenes take away from the prime hyperbole of connecting the dots of the age of Saknussemm with the troubles impacting Americans during the Administration of the first MBA president. Mindful of El Topo, readers of dark gloom and doom allegory thrillers will want to read this cautionary tale. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 22, 2005
There's more than enough intellectual bite to this for it to qualify as serious literature but the Fun Factor is way too high for the stuffed shirts and those who can't get laid. A man comes back from the dead to save America's wayward soul. A giant mechanical Oprah goes on the rampage, while a cartoon duck demands genitals and launches a new political party. There's kinky sex, a blues-strumming robot and an epic cast of crazies. College students, sci-fi fans hungry for a fresh take on technology and spirituality, and readers of contemporary fiction who are tired of pretense and 'memoir' will be drawn to this book like a magnet.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 1, 2005
ZANESVILLE is a psychotropic theme park full of colorful characters, weird sex and mutant ideas. Set in a future America that at points feels all too contemporary, the novel establishes a bizarre and yet engaging mythology about who is really in charge, while at the same time revealing an intimate, personal story of self-discovery and the search for love. With a high octane writing style and a laser sharp eye for the ludicrous, Saknussemm achieves a whole that reminds one of the best work of Vonnegut and DeLillo while still delivering enough mainline science fiction pyrotechnics to keep genre readers happy. Both hilarious and disturbing, this is an impressive debut from a writer with a highly individual imagination.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 18, 2008
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