Zinester Manifesto By John Dishwasher, 294 pgs.

Sep 22, 2023

According to his website, John Dishwasher dropped out of “mainstream” society about thirty years ago and started traveling, working odd jobs, and writing about the people he met along the way. In 2017 he wrote his first zine and since then he’s thrown himself headlong into this passion, writing on art, sociology, literature, his life, and won Best Political Zine at the 2021 International Zine Awards. This, then, his first novel, could be considered a love letter of sorts to the subculture that has consumed him these last six years.

The novel follows six characters (“zinesters,” a word I no longer wish to ever see again after reading this book) as they navigate the apparently endless stream of zine fests in the Southern California area. A novel with this many main characters is a tricky proposition for any writer, but could be considered especially daunting for a first time novelist, and, I have to say, Dishwasher does an admirable job keeping all of the plates spinning simultaneously without losing the thread tying all of this together. Ezekiel “Easy” Castillo’s story of a Mexican-American man keeping tabs on the cops through the use of live streaming and the drones he flies behind his lowrider as he’s inevitably pulled over again and again was especially interesting. Same for Blossom, an Indigenous woman whose zine is dedicated to finding and confronting the first man who led the booing of Sacheen Littlefeather, the woman who accepted Marlon Brando’s Oscar to protest the treatment and depiction of Native Americans in film.

The problem then becomes the fact that all of the main characters in this book are so pure of motive that it removes a lot of the tension. The people who do introduce conflict in this novel are so ancillary and ephemeral that they can just be reduced to type (“bad cop,” “rich white man”) so it never feels like there are any stakes being raised. And perhaps that’s the point of this book, to invent a zine fest utopian society where misfits support each other unconditionally, true love comes to (literally) everybody if they’re patient, and even the saddest, most broken soul can find purpose and acceptance. It’s a beautiful sentiment, to be sure, but makes for a fairly mundane third act. –Justin Bookworm (Six Fires Press, sixfirespress.com)

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