Radical Fiction: Vanessa Veselka’s “Zazen”

Is a book about radicals the first spark for saving the publishing industry? Wouldn’t that be hilarious? Read More

By / July 26, 2011
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Zazen by Vanessa Veselka is one of the first novels (along with Kio Stark’s Follow Me Down) to be published on Richard Nash’s transcendent digital imprint Red Lemonade. Red Lemonade it seems, is a proving ground for one of a few different potential fixes for the publishing world’s future, one with the potential to save it from suffering a fate so severe as the music industry. Therefore, Zazen as a tone-setting first novel carries a lot of weight. And weighty it is. Vesekla, a writer for Maximum RocknRoll, Bust, and Bitch pulls no punches in her first novel, concocting a miasma of the collective politics of the radical counterculture.  It’s a world of weekend anarchist tofu scramble eaters, transgendered ukulele players and eco terrorists; a world that the mainstream media, or at least the literati has recently taken a heightened interest in. With a recent book and documentary about the eco terrorism sweep of the early aughts, along with Justin Taylor’s recent novel about Florida anarhco-punks, The Gospel of Anarchy, it seems that for many, now is the time to explore the modern radicalism. Zazen does so in a way that’s sometimes dauntingly esoteric, but always poignant, witty and eloquent.

Born to a family of radicals, Della is surrounded by two worlds, “us” and “them,” but lately she’s having a difficult time deciding who’s more dangerous. Between “them” slowly consuming the earth like locusts and “us,” running around like angry black-clad children with access to bomb-making materials, it’s becoming hard to decipher whose more likely to do real harm once the rubber hits the road. At first Della finds solace and distraction in her new hobby of calling in phony bomb threats, but the thrill is ruined by a number of real bombs that start to go off all around her. Feeling at times like a sci-fi novel, Della’s urban America is one in a state of upheaval that’s somewhat like the one we live in, only fast forwarded to some people’s version of a logical next step. Della associates herself with numerous formal and informal cells and finds herself on both sides of numerous different socio/political fences, ending with her playing one woman counter-terrorism unit in order to preserve that which she abhors. If that doesn’t make too much sense as a plot description, that’s because Veseka’s plot is complex enough that I might not have fully understood it and exciting enough that I’d hate to ruin it for potential readers.  Veselka’s beautifully descriptive prose alone makes the book worth reading. If you fancy yourself a writer, buy a paper copy of this book so that you can highlight and underline its constantly arresting prose. It’s a book to be taken about, until folded and crushed into a shell of its brand new self. Veselka’s character study of the book’s radical supporting cast, alone, makes it worth reading. This book is an ultra modern critique/love letter to the American neo radical left, and an excellent example of the kind of voice that makes American literary fiction still exciting.

(Photo via The Nervous Breakdown)