Drew's Reviews > Atomik Aztex

Atomik Aztex by Sesshu Foster
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's review
Jun 21, 12

Read from May 25 to June 21, 2012

I knew Sesshu Foster and I were going to have problems as soon as I read the "note" before the beginning of the book, which I will reproduce in full, because I think it gives a good sense of what Atomik Aztex is and is not about:

"This is a work of fiction." Did he feel the need to say this because the cover only says Atomik Aztex and not Atomik Aztex: A Novel? Was there any way anybody could have mistaken a book with this title for a work of non-fiction?

"Readers looking for accurate information on Nahua and Mexica peoples or the Farmer John meat packing plant in the City of Vernon need to read nonfiction." (patronizing italics his) So not only does he offend anyone who actually sought out his book and knew what they were looking for, but he's casting doubt on all the seeming facts he includes in the book itself, which is strange, because he spends whole pages talking in great detail about the processes involved in, for instance, Aztec sacrifices or Farmer John meat packing. A significant portion of the book is devoted to listing facts about all this stuff, and he casts doubt on the accuracy of all of it before he even starts. Great.

"Persons attempting to find a plot in this book should read Huck Finn." Whoa, wait. No plot? Shit! Well, he hasn't quite scared me off yet.

"Also, in this book a number of dialects are used, including the extreme form of the South-Western pocho dialect, caló, ordinary inner-city slang, and modified varieties of speech from the Vietnam era. This is no accident." So from this it looks like there are going to be large portions of the book that are nigh incomprehensible to the average person.

Much as I'd like to, I'm not going to give him any more flak about the note, except to say that taken all together, it strongly implies that Atomik Aztex is plotless and characterless, making it, what, an exercise in language? Let's hope the prose is good, then.

Unfortunately, the prose could at best be described as uneven. Foster is clearly a capable writer, maybe even a great one. But every great line is covered in garbage. Sample line of dialogue: "Don't you know nothing? Let me put it another way. Why drown all your kittens in the same sack on a rainy day when you can wear concrete galoshes to your own funeral, find yourself staring up thru the dandelions hog wild on a Month of Sundays in the Windy City? Don't be such a Knuckle Sandwich, Spaz Attack!" I'm not being entirely fair; that line isn't exactly representative of the entire book, but it IS representative of a dense, cliché-ridden six page dialogue with no tags or paragraphs, none of which really makes any sense whatsoever.

Back up. Let me try and reconstruct the story a little bit. For context. The whole book follows Zenzontli, Keeper of the House of Darkness, and the only character possessing more than one dimension. Half the time, he's a wage slave in a Los Angeles slaughterhouse. The other half, he's an Aztek (sic) warrior of some power and status who leads other Aztek warriors during the Battle of Stalingrad. Guess which one's the dream/vision/hallucination.

It's the slaughterhouse...as far as I can tell. Naturally, it's way more complex than that. There are characters common to both storylines, although they share nothing more than a name; no character is really developed beyond physical description and mannerisms. And the mannerisms seem interchangeable, just like the spelling of every word. Then you have the instances where the two storylines collide, where characters address Zenzontli the meatpacker as if he were Zenzontli the Keeper of the House of Darkness. All this gets pretty confusing, and neither the writing nor the story itself possesses enough power to make the reader want to puzzle it all out.

It definitely has the potential to be interesting; there are some nice parallels between the savage Aztek culture and the equally savage (though slightly more subtly so) American capitalist culture. But why does Foster have to make it so pointlessly difficult? There's no reason to cram all the text onto each page with half-inch margins and no paragraph breaks. There's no reason to include cryptic black-and-white photos at the beginning of every chapter. There's no reason to spell the same word two different ways in the same sentence. There's no reason to write certain passages in italics if those passages don't differ in any meaningful respect from other passages. There's no reason to insert a page of text clearly culled from email spam subject lines into a character's speech. (That's not just me disparaging his writing, he really put email spam in there. "PENIS ENLARGEMENT FDA-Approved vacuum pump/surgical enlargement Gain 1-3'' Permanent and Safe Enhance Erection Dr. Joel Kaplan (619) 574-PUMP," et cetera.)

And there's certainly no reason to end the most/only captivating scene in the book with "Except that never happened."
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