"A challenging but altogether cutting-edge, first-rate magnum opus by an up-and-coming author."– Kirkus Reviews
A collection of poems about writing, ordering marijuana, and reevaluating one’s expectations.
The speaker in Akley’s (The Psalmist, 2017, etc.) works meditate on complications of daily life. The narrator’s complicated relationship with his ex-wife and their shared children reappears often, and Akley tends to favor description over projection, which gives the scenes a kind of emotional opacity. Plans to quit working for the U.S. Veterans Affairs office and travel are also a recurring motif, and after the fact, the author turns to reflect on that decision (a screen shot of a resignation email provides proof). A lot of Akley’s poems are about recursive worries about creative work, specifically regarding his ideas and writing practice. The poem’s speakers try to walk the line between drinking, smoking, and composing poetry with an authentic voice. It’s a style that fits neatly next to the late poet Charles Bukowski’s—grimy and to the point. (One poem even attempts to one-up Bukowski himself; apparently, even he’s too much of an aesthete.) The speakers’ swearing at Frédéric Chopin and admiration of David Foster Wallace are almost intriguing, and few books discuss both quantum mechanics and preparing beef jerky for one’s daughter’s breakfast. The pacing and motifs of most of the poems, however, are similar enough that they have a tendency to bleed together, although they are pulled back into relief by certain sharp phrases, such as “Sometimes I wish / my eyes were on a different face.” Later on, the poems are broken up by short narrative paragraphs and, in one case, by a full essay about the protagonist of Albert Camus’ absurdist 1956 novel The Fall. These sections give the impression that the book is organized more by chronology than by theme or style, although this choice is neither clear nor explained, which makes the overall goal of the book difficult to piece together.
Sparks of clear lines, dampened by too much repetition.
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.
Characters consider their lives and philosophically reflect in this novel, which includes a short screenplay.
“Catadoupe” is the French word for waterfall—a title that captures the torrential effect of this novel’s verbiage as well as its obscurity. The various plot strands of this rambling work, which interlace and reform, include stories involving a medical lab technician; a husband and wife; a father and two daughters; drugs, especially marijuana; a Prohibition-era gangster; a cat, or two cats, or Schrödinger’s cat; people who don’t neuter their pets, resulting in “too many litters”; a woman who shoots her boyfriend’s dog in the face; golf, God, prayer, love, the past, the darknet, bitcoin, a suicide attempt, a psychiatric hospital, and a funeral. Several characters are writers, and even a version of Akley (The Candlestick, 2013, etc.) himself appears in emails to a literary agent, in which he says that he wants to retell the story of Oedipus. (Oedipus himself isn’t noticeably present here, but one section, in screenplay form, offers a character called Electra von Turnipseed.) The Akley character considers his own story so far, with its loose ends, and affirms it: “Yes I would be passion’s fool yes I will play the game or the game will play me yes…yes there are no mistakes no loose ends.” Some readers may enjoy the variety of literary forms here, including text messages and the aforementioned screenplay. But if this all sounds hard to follow, that’s because it is, and it’s not made easier by the author’s penchant for largely unpunctuated run-on sentences that sometimes go for more than a page. The book’s ruminations, such as “sometimes forgetting while you’re finding that beauty something beautiful is going on somewhere else,” seldom have force, as they’re hard to pick out of the confusion. Also, his characters’ deep thoughts all seem linked to a fairly standard lineup of hipster icons (Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Philip K. Dick, Charles Bukowski) and include the standard insight: “it all goes back to when your parents or the guardians of your childhood told you No.”
An incoherent work that may be particularly unpleasant for animal lovers.