Fans of Death and Life of Zebulon Finch could steal from those who love Les Miserables and refer to it as ‘the brick’ without it being inaccurate. The first tome in a series, Zebulon Finch’s story truly begins in 1896, where Zebulon dies – and comes back to life moments later.
But from the first page, readers are dropped immediately into Zebulon’s voice, vivid and accessible while still being old-fashioned.
“Of the various challenging aspects of the book, Zebulon’s voice was the easiest for me to comes to grip with,” said author Daniel Kraus. “For whatever reason, that sort of Victorian prose comes naturally to me. I think you can see indications of that in my books Rotters and Scowler, too, a tendency toward stately prose. Look at the first sentence of this paragraph; it’s bugging me that I wrote ‘comes to grip with’ instead of ‘with which I came to grips.’ I also love antiquated words; I have a whole pad of paper filled with ‘Zebulon words,’ things I come across that I think he’d love to say. He’s a show-off.”
But Zebulon doesn’t get to resume his day-to-day life as if nothing happened. He becomes a sideshow attraction – and then a scientist’s specimen – and then a soldier in World War I. Kraus researched like Hermione preparing an essay for Professor Binns in the Harry Potter series, starting with a 15-foot timeline and a 20-page outline to get the big picture of the series. After researching for each section of the book – volume 1 of Death and Life has six sections alone – the 20-page outline had become a 300-page outline.
“It’s all very tiring,” said Kraus. “Yes, there were loads of historical events that I had plans to twine into the plot that just became too much. The biggest elements cut were a couple of characters that I extracted during editing — lost to the tides of time.”
Through it all, Zebulon seeks redemption for the things he’s done and the things he will do, and if the prologue is anything to go by, he doesn’t believe he’s successful – if, of course, volume 2 picks up where volume 1 lets off, which Kraus hints might not be the case.
“It’s the whole point of the character: can one overcome one’s basic nature? It’s sort of liking forcing someone to apologize — is it an apology if the person doesn’t mean it? Zebulon knows he was bad; that’s obvious. He develops a sense that he should redeem himself over time. But can he really? And it’s all tied up this idea of Zebulon as a stand-in for the America dream, and what it takes to accomplish that, and who we run over to do it, and if those are acceptable losses or if we should repent them.”
Death and Life of Zebulon Finch: Volume 1 is available now. While Kraus – a director during the day – has no plans to turn it into the movie, he hopes that readers will read it and love it.
And be shocked by it.
“[Death and Life] is almost guaranteed to shock you at a few points — really shock you. Whenever I hear that about a book or movie, that gets me interested, so I guess I’ll say that. Though now it sounds like I’m just saying it to get you to read it. I’m not. It really will shock you. Do you believe me yet? I’ll stop now.”
For more on Daniel Kraus, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.