Zendik Communal Arts, 2001 (ISBN 0963056611)
When a publisher I had never heard of queried me about a posthumously-published novel by an "undiscovered Beat," I was skeptical at first, but also curious. The Beats to me are like a secret lover to the more literary wife I cling to most of the time. I pick up Naked Lunch or The Dharma Bums whenever I want a break from the highbrow fiction I am accustomed to reading. Needless to say, the thought of something new in the Beat vein intrigued me. As I said, though, I was hesitant. After all, any Beat writer worth publishing would have been "discovered" 50 years ago at the height of the movement. Right? Well, apparently not. Wulf Zendik easily fits in with the likes of Burroughs, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti and the rest. His writing is equal parts Bukowski and Buddha, as much Ginsburg as Gao Xingjian.
In A Quest Among the Bewildered, described as an "early autobiographical novel," Zendik straddles the traditional Beat line between living and meditating. He touches on all the familiar themes: love, lust, homosexuality, intoxication, spirituality, the subculture, and the quest for enlightenment as found in experiencing all the rest and moving beyond. His language rages and burns, then mellows, slows, lulls the reader into a feeling of safety before lunging with a sharp blade:
"One day. . . When our eyes have dimmed shrouded by time and tears
now dry. Worn . . . With our quest for certainties on this uncertain star,
Our thoughts, still young. . . We'll send weaving back through the opaque and
cloud sea of memories. Look how. . . The fog of time all but obliterates our
conquests now so diminutive. All but obliterates our once so prided inanimate
possessions, things we gave our love for so long unremembered. Now. . .
rot and rust. But there through the mist. . . There still warm, there still live.
The only certainty in this or any universe. Our perennial poignant. . . . Love.
Darling, see. . . Our bodies aflame in a phosphorescent midnight sea. . .
Then lovesleeping by an ember fading, on the sand edge of the world."
Zendik writes with the enthusiasm of a young seeker, while topping off his prose with the insights of a learned master. While all the Beat basics are here: the energy of Kerouac, the poetics of Ginsburg, the over-the-top edginess of Burroughs, Zendik's work often resembles something more eloquent and grand. It often reminded me of Rilke's novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge in the way the narrator stops to contemplate the simplest things while keeping what can loosely be called a story hidden far in the background.
A Quest Among the Bewildered is the kind of novel one hesitates to enter, but rejoices in having left after its unexpected soul-searching, its journey to places of self and society, its magnificent dreamscape of language and idea. How Zendik remained an "undiscovered Beat" seems as much a curiosity as his work. This book makes a case for his being included among the more noted writers of his generation. At times harsh, at times dazzling, Zendik's prose touches every nerve and reaches every secret desire. It hooks the reader and refuses to let go, not in the way a Stephen King novel might, more in the way carnival rides and conversations do.
Recommendation: Buy this one. While it might be the last book on your shelf, it will not be last in your thoughts. The words and insights will stay with you for days until you feel the urge to pick it up again, go back for a second helping of life at its most raw, its most fascinating. Expect a truly wonderful reading experience.