Pavarti Tyler's Reviews > Zazen

Zazen by Vanessa Veselka
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Jul 28, 2011

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bookshelves: fiction
Read from August 05 to September 12, 2011

Zazen by Vanessa Veselka is a beautiful book. It's written with a lyrical prose and poetic license rarely found in modern Lit Fic. The plot is slow and twisting, constantly surprising and subtle. Unfortunately Vaselka's expert wordsmithing doesn't manage to salvage the emotionless characters and inaccessible world of Zazen .

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel the need to tell you I went to Smith College in the 90s. I have some very real issues with what I would call "liberal fascists" and "opportunistic lesbians." I knew people just like Grace and Milo who lived off the grid and thought they were truly better than others because of it. I knew people who thought that being in an inter-racial couple or homosexual relationship somehow added credibility to your liberalism. Vaselka portrayed these individuals so well they pissed me off to the degree I didn't enjoy reading about them.

The problem though is they pissed me off so much I didn't enjoy reading about them! The characters in Zazen were flat and unengaging, constantly beating the same fascist drum disguised as enlightenment. I didn't care about Della's inner-turmoil. Instead of being relateable and tragic all she managed to do was annoy me. I felt no passion, no life, no reason to care. She was a cardboard cut out of a really interesting character. Extremely deep in thought and observation but lacking any emotional connection what so ever.

Even the intended love interest of Della held no passion, no meaning. Della is no better than my college roommate who slept with a woman so she had someone to take care of her and make her feel special until she met a man. The very kind of woman who gives bisexuals such a bad reputation. Perhaps someone this world is new to would find it alien enough to be exotic or interesting. Instead I just saw all the reasons I don't talk to many people from that time in my life.

At one point I put this book down and didn't come back for a few days, which if you know me is telling in itself. When I picked it up again I couldn't find my place and found that I could start just about anywhere and not feel like I'd missed some important part of the story of character development. The plot was simply too one-note for it to make a difference.

I do believe that Veselka is extremely talented. Her turns of phrase are exquisite. She describes Grace (the mother) consistently and vividly using some of the most poetic language I have read in a novel in a long time. The fact that I wanted to stab Grace in the eye with her fucking Frito Pie serving knife for being the single most selfish and pretentious character I've ever read about unfortunately rendered much of Veselka's beautiful writing void.

Here are some quotes from the book that really caught me. Vivid and beautiful, Veselka's style is evocative and unique. I can't wait to see what she writes next. Hopefully she will be able to find the place where beautiful words evoke emotion and engage you deeper in the story.

Credence sets his coffee cup in the sink where it turns into a silk moth, flies into a light mixture, and rains down in a cascade of ash.

Intentions blowing everywhere like dandelion seeds.
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