Reviewed by Rick Klaw, Fri., Nov. 25, 2005
by Kris Saknussemm
Villard, 485 pp., $14.95 (paper)The American-born, Australian-educated Kris Saknussemm has created the most original novel of the year with this wildly imaginative near-future satire. Explaining exactly what goes on in this dense book outside of a doctoral dissertation, which someone no doubt will write is very difficult.
The amnesiac Elijah Clearfather wakes in New York City with the enigmatic message FATHER FORGIVE THEM F carved on his back. He joins a group of rebels led by Aretha Nightingale, a linebacker-sized drag queen, who are fighting the tyranny of the globally dominant Vitessa Cultporation. The freedom fighters uncover Elijah's powers. He sings pieces of old pop songs, causing reality-altering events to occur: People cease to exist, injuries heal, items disappear. The band also discovers clues to Elijah's origins. He is either the reincarnation (or clone) of a nearly forgotten 19th-century messiah or a 20th-century porn star or possibly both. Fearing Elijah, the group expels him. The rebels leave him with a map pinpointing possible leads to his origin. Thus begins his trek across a very different America. As they say, "And then things got weird."
Saknussemm deftly and artfully exposes an underbelly of American society. At one point, Dooley Duck, a rebellious cartoon holographic image who demanded to be anatomically correct and later married Ubba Dubba, a cartoon orangutan, declares, "Forgive us for turning the promise of America into a commercial virus that threatens to destroy the other cultures and indeed the whole environment of the earth." Nothing is sacred. Religion, big business, pop culture, science, love, sex, and nearly everything else falls under Saknussemm's satirical stroke.
At times sobering and humorous, the tale of Elijah Clearfather represents a 21st-century reality with a unique clarity and vision. Volume One of the proposed Lodemania Testament, Zanesville is a zany, lyrical tale that, while a complete story, leaves the reader hungry for further experiences with Elijah Clearfather.
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