Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Zazen, Vanessa Veselka
by Vanessa Veselka, Red Lemonade, 2011
Della is tormented by the violence and sadness in the world around her: a world that has succumbed to the hyper-consumerism of big box stores, big box banks, and big box churches; a world torn apart by social strife, race and class violence, militarism, terrorism. War is looming. Many of those who can, have left; those who can't, or won't, struggle to make sense of it. Della moves between the different people and strains of the counterculture - community organizers, vegans, yogis, her own 1960's style hippie liberal parents - seeking a place that makes sense to her, striving to find solace and a salve to the pain, to the Weltschmerz of her existence. She flirts with taking action of her own, calling in bomb threats without planting bombs, until suddenly bombs actually go off in the places she chose. She seeks connection in a nearby collective. Della finally feels at home, until she uncovers a secret, and must finally come to terms with how she will be in the world.
This book was, in some ways, a challenge read for me, and I knew that going in. Zazen came so highly recommended I had to give it a try, and am glad I did. Veselka captures, in often beautiful, exciting, and poetic language the atmosphere of this world in collapse, the ironies and details of the counterculture movements she describes (yet also eliciting the sincerity and humanity in them as well). I found Della herself to often be so self-involved in her own pain and fragility it was alternatingly enchanting and excruciating to read, and for a good part of the novel I both wondered whether (and hoped beyond all hope) this was intentional. I should not have doubted; eventually it becomes clear that this is the author's intent -Veselka even calls attention to it in a confrontational moment as events begin to escalate.
The author herself is quite fascinating, having had many non-traditional professions before writing this novel, and the breadth of her knowledge and experience comes through brilliantly in her writing. If you would like to know more about her, I highly recommend this interview with Vanessa Veselka over at The Rumpus. The publisher, Red Lemonade is also quite interesting, having founded an online community in which writers can share their works in progress with readers, getting feedback as they go along.
Zazen may not be a read for everyone, but it will appeal to thinkier readers, writers, folks who are drawn to stories that explore collapsing societies and identity and morality. I found it to be very thought provoking, if not always an easy read. If the story sounds like your kind of story, and Della a character who would intrigue you, it's well worth your time.
I received my copy of Zazen as a gift.