Bowling lessons with a hunchback. A bizarre first-grade teacher who hallucinates in class. A tragically innocent family blind-sided by flower power, and the salvation of soul music at a radio station straight out of a Quentin Tarantino version of “The Twilight Zone.” These are just a few of the luminous characters and conjurings Kris Saknussemm delivers in his kaleidoscopic Sea Monkeys — the story of his growing up in the counterculture San Francisco Bay Area and central California in the 1960s.
Known for his genre-bending works Zanesville and Private Midnight, Saknussemm now gives us a highly original take on the nonfiction memoir, in which he shatters the stained glass windows of his father’s church and mixes the pieces with ghost cartoons, the Cronkite contradictions of Civil Rights demonstrations, and ads for laxatives during a strange hiatus in American sanity when Sly Stone and Perry Como could both be in the Top 10. Honest, funny, and at times heartbreaking, Sea Monkeys is the no-holds-barred tale of one of our most exciting contemporary authors’ own coming of age, and the perfect follow-up to Saknussemm’s Zanesville, which Booklist hailed as “one of the most creative, edgy, and entertaining novels spawned in a decade.”
No one could dream a place like California,’ Jay Farrar sings, but in Sea Monkeys, Kris Saknussemm dreams growing up on the wild coast in prose with bite, immediacy and pungency commensurate with his capacity for wonder. Sea Monkeys delivers less the specifics of a sentimental education and more intensely the shining contours of a famously diverse ecology that includes father as alcoholic preacher, a flawed loving family shattered by child rape, the hijinks and shenanigans of children whose imaginations yet live, the homemade toys of childhood which refuse to die, the neighborhood kids and gangs of friends waking to marvels, terrors and sadness usually unmentioned by adults. Saknussemm’s prose crackles and rings with tones and registers out of the range of the average and the ordinary, but out of the wreckage of those, he recalls the wild and dew-breathed dreams of childhood gone indelible through the quality of recall.
We get old but we stay young. We’re all of ourselves we’ve ever been. Kris Saknussemm knows this. After this book, you will too.
Kris Saknussemm’s sincerity, wisdom and writing talent make Sea Monkeys something which is half way between a memoir and a Molotov cocktail.
[H]is psychological insights are sharp... And a much longer piece, \xE2\x80\x9CMr. Very Late Night,\xE2\x80\x9D about being the only white D.J working the graveyard shift at a black radio station, is a superb piece of writing...
It’s immediately evident that we’re dealing with a poet who’s operating in a sublimely blurred space between poetry and prose . . . The autobiographical sketches that cover the author’s early adult years are full of the sort of boozing, drugging and sexcapades one would naturally expect from an alcoholic preacher’s son. Highlights from these years include the author’s stint as a soul radio DJ and a Henry Miller–esque romp through Saknussemm’s many sexual conquests as a randy college professor. A wonderfully warped grab bag of memories from a wilder and weirder time.