"A challenging but altogether cutting-edge, first-rate magnum opus by an up-and-coming author."– Kirkus Reviews
A sprawling novel detailing the life of a 20th-century blues musician.
Akley’s lengthy fiction debut tells the story of a blues musician named David Threnody, who was “born in an apartment above a pawn shop on 129 N 8th Street in East St. Louis, Illinois…in winter, the 28th of February 1918.” Akley uses a variety of techniques—including journal entries and a long stretch of prose structured as a stage play—to first outline the lives of David’s parents and then to tell David’s own life from his childhood to his slow, spotty entrance onto the music scene in New Orleans and its environs. “Remember laughter is a tool like anything else,” David’s mother writes. “It’s a tool for Hope.” Yet there’s barely any humor in this long book and virtually no hope, either. Instead, through the viewpoints of a handful of characters but always returning to center on David, Akley takes readers through the ups and downs of David’s life, his music, his problems with the law, and his struggles with drugs and alcohol. David’s morose and brooding nature governs the story, seen most directly in excerpts from his own journals: “No good habits come from idle time. Bodies just rot that way.” Through the long, complicated stories of David’s love life and tense family relationships, Akley shapes a narrative of a down-and-out bluesman who grows into a kind of hard-won wisdom. “He was kind of a preacher you know,” one character says of him. “And his songs were laments. Like it was all vanity to him. A striving after the wind.” Akley consistently displays great skill in both moving the story briskly along despite its great length and in controlling the tempo, sometimes speeding it up and peppering it with tragedies or sometimes slowing it down and filling it with memorable philosophical observations: “Truth is memory when you’re sad.” “It’s the present moment when you’re happy.” A sordid, off-tempo ending adds extra resonance to the story of David’s bleak but fascinating life.
An absorbing artist’s story with a similar structure but darker tone than Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961).
An avant garde update of a classic Greek tragedy.
Akley’s new novel is a deeply ambitious project, 700 plus pages of experimental prose filled with allusions to the Bible, the Beatles, Marx, Nietzsche, Johnny Cash and the cool jazz of Miles Davis, but readers who stick with it will be amply rewarded. Although labyrinthine, it is also gratifying. Akley’s previous work includes a number of award-winning children’s books, but this project is decidedly adult. Lazarus is contemporary version of the Oedipus trilogy, Sophocles’ timeless epic about the benighted family of a man who
kills his father and marries his mother. However, the novel is less a retelling than a refraction. Akley shines his ancient source through a prism and watches the colors spin and dance on a white wall, jumping between generations and growing family trees whose limbs are sometimes chopped with surprising speed, he delivers a tale as engrossing as it is complex. However, he manages this sprawling project with a steady hand, his deft prose is the thread that keeps his patchwork quilt from falling to pieces. The author experiments with numerous forms, piecing his story together with diary entries, e-mail correspondence, dramatic dialogue and, to great effect, screenplay. Each form is more adeptly handled than the last and such flexibility proves his skill.
A challenging but altogether cutting-edge, first-rate magnum opus by an up-and-coming author.