When I was little, my dad would tell me stories about what it was like growing up on Guam. (His father was stationed there when he was ten.) The idea that my dad, from plain old Maine, could have grown up on an island, was fascinating to me, and I was transfixed by his tales. My favorite stories were about how they would wake in the morning to find their house infested with geckos, the little lizards attached to the walls and ceiling, and how they would have to go around and collect them all in a bucket and release them outside. (The whole process would have to be repeated the next morning - tenacious little buggers, them.) And about how he would chase tropical fish through the shallow waters, trying to catch them to bring home for his aquarium. One of the fish I remember him telling me about was the trigger fish, so named because when pursued, the fish would swim into a crevice in the reef or rocks and release its "trigger," a fin which came up off its back and made it impossible for prey to pull it out of its hiding place.
Vanessa Veselka's ZAZEN is like that trigger fish - it is a brilliant, weird, brightly-colored book that swims through your eyeballs and into your brain, where it releases its trigger in your amygdala, and doesn't come out. ZAZEN is one of the first releases from Red Lemonade, a publishing imprint of Cursor, created by literary giant Richard Nash. (He is, to the book world, what Quincy Jones and Martin Scorsese are to their professions. He's a rock star, capital 'ROCK'.) I had the privilege of receiving an advance copy, and was just floored by it. I immediately began telling everyone within arm's reach and on the internet how amazing it was. I couldn't stop thinking about it - it swished through my brain like the sound of skis on snow: Za-zen. Za-zen. Za-zen.
ZAZEN is the story of Della, a twenty-something waitress in a vegetarian restaurant, and the social and political upheaval that is taking place around her (in a country that is just one click of the dial away from being America's actual future.) War is breaking out across the States - some people are leaving the country, some are sticking it out, and some are using this opportunity to carry out their own agendas. The city Della lives in is rife with bomb threats and actual bombings, and she soon finds herself swept up in the revolution. The book is intense and funny, and Della is such a witty, incredibly flawed character - I loved her so much.
I am so unbelievably thrilled that Vanessa is going to be here at RiverRun Bookstore on Wednesday, August 17th at 7pm! (For those of you not in roundhouse-kick range, we will be live-streaming the event, too.) And don't just take my word for it - ZAZEN is getting amazing praise left and right, and Vanessa herself is a really fascinating person. Here is a mini-interview I just did with myself:
Me: Will you ever stop talking about Vanessa Veselka's ZAZEN?
Me: No. *knocks camera out of my hands* *shoves self out of my way*
I hope you can join us and find out for yourselves.