In 1897, Zebulon Finch, a 17-year-old who abandoned his wealthy family in favor of Chicago gang violence, is murdered—but it's 17 minutes later, when he awakens as a sort of animated cadaver, that his misadventures and tormented life really begin.
This first volume of Mr. Finch's memoir, composed as he is willingly interred in the depths of the foundation of the World Trade Center as it is erected in New York City, spans his birth to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Whether he is starring in a patent-medicine show, serving as a Harvard professor's experimental subject, participating in World War I trench warfare, or acting as a Hollywood starlet's bizarre sexual toy, Mr. Finch is always quick to remind readers that his own egoism and compulsive behaviors are the root of the pattern of his miserable existence. He has an unerring ability to align himself with those most eager to destroy him, while often mistreating those who offer him kindness. Kraus' careful prose gifts Mr. Finch with a voice that retains a sheen of elegance even as it repulses readers with macabre imagery. And still, when his occasional efforts at reform fail, Mr. Finch becomes an oddly pitiable character.
Skillful prose creates a strangely engaging narrative voice, but the continuous cycle of possible redemption followed by failure and loss of hope becomes repetitive over the course of 650 pages—and this is just Part 1. (Horror. 14 & up)