The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch: At the Edge of Empire

656p. ebook available. S. & S. Oct. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781481411394.
Gr 8 Up—Finch, a teenage runaway, is murdered in 1896—about 50 pages into this behemoth of a novel, which proceeds through his inexplicable reanimation and well into the 20th century. He's not fully alive, but he cannot die and, thus, he is a Zelig-like participant in matters as consequential as World War I, Prohibition, and the Great Depression. Kraus's fascination with decaying, rotting human flesh, as readers of Rotters (Delacorte, 2011), his novel about father and son grave robbers, will remember, returns here. His descriptive powers are on full display, as Finch's body doesn't hold together very well. Then there is the author's prodigious vocabulary, which will have many searching for the definitions of such words as voussoir, sulcus, lansquenet, gasconade, and the like. Readers will not be comforted in knowing that this is merely the first installment of Finch's story. It's possible that this cliff-hanger ending will provide an excuse for Finch's lengthy, unattractive existence, but another 600 pages of reading might prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to all but the most motivated.
VERDICT A hefty volume for fans of historical fiction with an undead twist.

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