Zebulon Finch is born in the late 19th century and is killed when he is 17. More than a distinct examination of the human condition from a myriad of perspectives, Zebulon also experiences the rise of America. The progression of a 17 year old boy through a life he never wanted, and would never accept as entitlement is an interesting and surprisingly emotional ride. Kraus uses historical events to line up the plot and puts Zebulon in the middle of everything.
This boy was caught up in the rise of organized crime in Chicago, the evolution of the film industry in California, civil war, great war, and prohibition, Zebulon sees it all. He struggles in this to understand the consequences of not only his own actions, but the actions of others. Emotionally, he doesn’t really grow up. He’ll always be 17, a criminal, a soldier, and an experiment.
Not knowing if or when his life will finally end, Zebulon cannot begin to grasp at the ideals of reparation, war, and sacrifice. He sees his own daughter grow old, tries to steer her from, in his mind, a morally ambiguous path. Great nations rise and fall, and all Zebulon wants is a normal life, a normal death. Instead, he is forced to watch the people he loves grow old, grow desperate, and die fighting. And regardless of injury, he continues to exist. His life meant nothing, but his death shows him everything.