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Zanesville    by Kris Saknussemm order for
by Kris Saknussemm
Order:  USA  Can
Villard, 2005 (2005)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton

Kris Saknussemm's Zanesville is a satire of the not too distant future, a dystopia where most people are addicted to drugs, California has fallen into the ocean, and crime and murder are commonplace. Bioengineering has its day, with altered creatures of all kinds, part machine and part animal. And alternate food sources are abundant (beef doesn't seem to be on the menu any more!)

It is Post-Bigfoot (the earthquake known to all as THE BIG ONE) and the world is run by a Cultporation called Vitessa, which is close to the Big Brother that Orwell predicted. A man with no identity (named ClearFather by one of his rescuers) seeks a clue to who he is and how he got where he landed in New York City's Central Park. ClearFather arrived via a tornado, and that is all he can remember. His past has been wiped out, and the world in which he finds himself is frightening and bizarre. On his journey to discover who he is, ClearFather meets various people including: Aretha Nightingale, a black drag queen; Kokomo, the beautiful woman/child who does not speak; and others who befriend him along the way or pass him on the road to a newfound identity.

The reader sees the world through ClearFather's bewildered eyes - his knowledge seems to have come from a time long ago. Two unusual personalities who brought a smile to my face are Dooley Duck and Ubba Dubba, comic-like characters akin to Disney's creations. They tour the country as some sort of live advertising. The similarity to Disney stops when Dooley the Duck has a sudden awareness that he is without sex and demands a penis, causing riots across the country and anger from the religious right. The duo bring a comic thread to the story, as they appear throughout, interspersed with ClearFather's adventure.

The book comes across as a mix of Wizard of Oz and Alice In Wonderland meets Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. A mix of satire and comedy, it is a wonderfully dark novel filled with strange mystical creatures and references to 20th century pop culture, with many witty satirical remarks thrown in. Controversial characters and themes abound, and it's not for the squeamish or prudish. References to Bush, the Middle East, and various cultural icons and themes of today's world are thrown into the mix. One gets a sense of noise when reading. There is a lot going on, and it is easy for someone to miss the gist of what the author is trying to say.

It is hard to do the book justice in a review. While I found the first few chapters confusing, once the story was set up, it was funny and witty and I was laughing throughout ClearFather's adventures in this scary future America. I highly recommend Zanesville as an auspicious debut novel - a commentary on our world today and on what may happen in our not too distant future, if we continue along the path we are traveling.

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