Zen and the Art of Bomb Threats 

Portlander Vanessa Veselka's Debut Novel Zazen

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Halfway through reading Zazen, two bare wires were touched in my brain. And after some research, I'm aware of the extreme likelihood that local author Vanessa Veselka picked me up in a cab last summer. In a bout of friendly conversation, Veselka and I breached the topic of writing and she spoke with wild eloquence from the driver's seat about the book she had just penned. I listened thoughtfully, albeit with slight disbelief—I've had my share of batshit-crazy cab drivers in this lifetime. If it was indeed Veselka who dropped me home safely that night, it's by a curious and beautiful force that I selected her book from a stocked shelf's worth of reviewing materials. It is the way the universe works.

Which, oddly enough, is something that Veselka spends a fair amount of time toiling over in her lucid first novel. Her protagonist, a vaguely misanthropic young woman named Della, is interminably sad due to the inevitable demise of life's beauty, most literally illustrated by the bombs erupting in the city she inhabits (which suggests Portland in both cartographical, meteorological, and cultural descriptions).

Della takes control of her floundering vulnerability by calling in a series of bomb threats to spots she has mapped out based on "unconformist" political criteria—including all strip joints that charge a stage fee and a temp agency she insists perpetuates wage slavery. The plot turns when Della becomes engaged in a fistfight with the potential energy of said universe, and someone begins bombing these locations without her consent.

The book itself has some astute commentary on gentrification and race relations that plague cities across America, including a scenario that is very reminiscent of a recent injustice in Portland. It also interestingly juxtaposes yoga-practicing, vegan food-scarfing white people who overuse the prefix "neo" with third world-style chaos—war doesn't happen here.

And it's a beautifully written work, pulsing with streaming prose, keen metaphors, and lysergic imagery that often illustrates Della's internal narrations. On her blog, Veselka writes, "I want to feel like I'm swimming naked when I write," and that languid freedom translates in this first effort. I don't know if Veselka is still driving cabs, but if so, I don't think it's for much longer.

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