Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume One by Daniel Kraus

Dearest Reader,

If you dare, join me in the tale of one Zebulon Finch.

Revel in the ribaldry as Finch leaves the cosseted nest and joins the nascent Black Hand gangsters in fin-de-siƩcle Chicago!

Wince in sympathy as a reanimated Finch endures indentured servitude in Dr. Whistler’s Pageant of Health and Gallery of Suffering!

Recoil in horror as Finch discovers the cadaverous truth behind Dr. Leather’s People Garden!

With an opening straight out of Poe and elevated diction reminiscent of M.T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing, Daniel Kraus takes the macabre sensibility so evident in Rotters and Scowler and compels us to follow the unique post-mortem of Zebulon Finch, dead at seventeen yet living without physical pain for over a century afterward.

Like a zombie Forrest Gump, Zebulon turns up at key moments of the twentieth century: Prohibition, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the French forests and trenches of World War I, the birth of cinema and the rise of Hollywood. Like a perverse 17 Again, Zebulon is permanently 17, albeit an increasingly pasty and decrepit 17, forced to come to terms with his (and our) lack of humanity as the 600+ pages of Volume One lead Finch and the reader to the brink of World War II.

Kraus has written, as Finch describes his own narrative, a “conscientious document of survival.” Finch/Kraus’s wry humor helps leaven the pallor of our narrator’s visage and our author’s vision of the first half of what would become the “American Century.”  And I leave Volume One thinking of the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the great chronicler of dark souls in an earlier American century,  as Kraus forces us to think anew about Zebulon Finch’s deathly “black veil”:

"'Why do you tremble at me alone?' cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. 'Tremble also at each other! . . . I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!'"

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