Kris Saknussemn

"Zanesville"

(Reviewed by Leland Cheuk JAN 3, 2007)

Zanesville by Kris Saknussemm

Ever wonder what kind of novels Neal Stephenson and China Mieville might write if they had a little more fun?

Enter Zanesville, the genre-bending, metafictional world of first-time novelist Kris Saknussemm.

Zanesville riddles as much as it amuses. It starts with a preface, featuring an alternate 19th century American history about an ignored genius named Lloyd Sitturd. Sitturd leaves behind the resonant and cryptic inscription: “The hidden may be seeking and the missing may return.”

Fast-forward to a timeless corporate-controlled future. An amnesiac named Elijah 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 übercorporate reign on America? Or is he a weapon of mass destruction? Clearfather and his gigantic phallus are determined to find out.

Pluck the book’s more capricious imaginings and the plot essentially boils down to this: Clearfather and friends take a cross-country road trip in search of Clearfather’s past. The closer Clearfather gets, the more Sitturd’s history and Clearfather’s origins become intertwined and the more Vitessa Cultporation wants to stop Clearfather.

Not one word is predictable in Saknussemm’s novel and the reader turns each page at his own risk. Witness Clearfather’s stage entrance:

“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 Vitessa was repeated often…”

Zanesville is not a novel for the impatient.  Saknussemm aims higher, harder, louder, wider, farther, and deeper all at once, skewering, scrambling and satirizing America’s past, present and future.  At times, Saknussemm’s sentences read like an explosion of American cultural references that just happen to have a verb. But if you’re tired of all of the fuss over mediocre fiction, Zanesville packs more memorable scenes in 500 pages than some critically acclaimed authors have written in a lifetime.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 28 reviews


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About the Author:

Kris SaknussemmKris Saknussemm grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but has for a long time lived abroad, in the Pacific Islands and Australia. A painter and sculptor as well as a writer, his fiction and poetry have appeared in such publications as The Hudson Review, The Boston Review, The Antioch Review, New Letters and ZYZZYVA.

He has been a resident at the MacDowell Colony and is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Zanesville is his first novel and the first in a series of books called The Lodemania Testament.

He divides his time between a rural property in the old goldfields region outside Melbourne and the West Coast of America.

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