Fiction Jim Lewis The King Is Dead Jim Lewis

ISBN 13: 9780007135233

The King Is Dead Jim Lewis

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9780007135233: The King Is Dead Jim Lewis

the breakthrough novel from one of the most talented and celebrated young novelists in America -- a stirring, sweeping romance about a Good Woman and her Good Man, falling into bed, into marriage, into parenthood, into responsibility, and out again...The King Is Dead is that simple-but-beautiful, forever-compelling thing: the story of a heart-stirring romance that breeds a family and a history, then fades to black -- out of which something else is born. We're in the American South -- it's the New South born of the New Deal. The old ways of the Confederacy have been eliminated by all that Yankee efficiency and progress, except of course they haven't. We have a Good Man, Walter, moving into the heart of the machinery of American life, as the indispensable eyes and ears of the wily Governor of Tennessee. He meets his Good Woman, Nicole, in a ballpark carpark, a perfect crucible for an emblematic American romance; they banter and spar in best Bogart-Bacall fashion, then fall to billing and cooing, and, after proper delay, into bed, into marriage, into parenthood, into responsibility. And we follow that long, lovely fall. And then where are they? What can surprise them? What can rend their sweet, earned ease asunder? Well, you'll see...Along the way, the defining moments of a life, of a family history, are given in surprising, gorgeous prose, which has an incantatory luxury to it. You recline into this prose, comfortable as can be, and don't ever want to rise out of it. It's quite a departure for Jim Lewis. This third novel has been a long time coming, and it's very much a case of Great Third LP Syndrome, following Startlingly Inventive Ethereal First Album (Sister) and Difficult, Elusive Second Album (Why the Tree Loves the Axe). This is what we've been waiting for. This is why we wait.

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Review:

A father's shame is explored by his son in The King Is Dead, the third novel by Jim Lewis. Walter Selby, a decorated WW II veteran, becomes a speech writer and strategist for a prominent Tennessee politician; marries Nicole, a decade younger; and lives with all the trappings of the Southern upper-middle class, including two small children, Frank and Gail. A political debacle causes the fiercely moral Walter to resign, and he returns home early, only to find Nicole has been unfaithful. The second half of the novel follows Frank--who recalls little of his parents after his adoption--as a known, but declining, actor approached by a famous actress, Lenore, to star in her swan song.

Lewis displays considerable writing talent, such as when Frank explains to Lenore that he never talks about his real father, and "[s]he sounded surprised by the notion, and slightly incredulous, as if he'd told her that he'd never tasted orange juice, or that he'd once gone a year without sleeping." The novel is constructed to showcase Lewis's astute musings on love, sex, and death, but gives short shrift to the relationship between Frank and his ancestry. Instead, Frank's time is spent recalling his first love, Kimmie, and their sexual experiences (in vivid detail). While engaging characters abound, the plot of The King Is Dead becomes suppressed and merely strings them along. --Michael Ferch

From the Back Cover:

“This marvelous and beautifully written novel has at its blistered heart a love story...Lewis is extremely good on how Walter is changed by Nicole, by his adoration for her, and when their marriage ends it is awkward and passionate and shocking and moving...Some of the episodes along the way have the shape and presence of near-perfect short stories...There are lovely lines throughout. Lewis has made a world where things have their own inner lives, heavy with grief and consciousness...But it’s not just pretty writing: the book creates a powerful narrative urgency as it approaches its end...and you find you have to force yourself to read more slowly, not wanting the experience to end.”–David Flusfeder, Telegraph (UK, 8/12/03)

“A ballad of murder and mythmaking...[Lewis] is the kind of writer who can, with a straight face, end his book with the word ‘amen’ and kill of a character with the words ‘and the Angel of Death came down and took her.’ But he also possesses a dry, modern sense of irony and inconclusiveness, [as well as] intelligence and skepticism...There are books that seek to give ordinary life the status of myth, as if offering a shortcut to the immortality conferred on the straying heroines and vengeful heroes. If this novel did only that, it would be much less interesting. Its accomplishment lies in reversing the mythmaking process, freeing [its characters] from the gothic enchantments of History and restoring them to human scale.”–A. O. Scott, New York Times Book Review (8/3/03)

“Such a dramatic gesture gives us the willies, but: If you read only one work of fiction this summer, make it this eloquent meditation on the second half of the 20th century as reflected through the cracked prism of two flawed men, cause and consequence, a banished father and his rootless son, each battered by secrets, impulse and circumstance.”–Margaria Fichtner, Miami Herald (6/15/03)

The King is Dead is a marvelous book, and with it, Jim Lewis has come into full possession of a powerful literary voice whose main qualities are the hardest to come by: integrity, empathy, narrative allure, and wisdom. Lewis’s moral intelligence purges his prose of every false move and cheap convention, burrowing ever closer to the truths about the pull and stain of heritage. This is a book of impeccable artistry, and yet it goes beyond that, becoming, in the end, like the songs of the nameless country singer who appears in its pages, songs that were ‘neither art nor amusement, nor solace, nor democratic odes: they were facts, and they would be known.’”–Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex

“In a page-turning narrative, Lewis explores the underbelly of American society–from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s eviction of poor African Americans to the failure of the U.S. military to protect its minority soldiers during the world wars. Lewis’s writing distills what is most important about the social and political realities of his age. Like the Victorian political storyteller Anthony Trollope, Lewis is more than a novelist. In The King Is Dead, he has produced an ambitious epic of ideas, one that, in many ways, captures the changes and attitudes of the 20th century.”–Lynn Hamilton, BookPage (August, 2003)

“In books about fathers and sons, men inevitably wrestle with their fear of becoming their fathers. Jim Lewis gets that. His new novel, The King Is Dead, takes the father-son conflict and deftly weaves it into a 20th-century American fable...deal[ing] with the inevitability of lineage, and legacy...With The King Is Dead, Lewis proves he can evoke intimate sadness within big stories. That’s the mark of real tragedy–and real art.”–Seth Taylor, San Diego Union Tribune (8/3/03)

“A legacy of instability and alienation plagues two generations in this [novel], Jim Lewis’s third outing...Lewis create[s] some smashing effects in his dénouement, as Frank travels to his dying father’s bedside seeking the answer to the “riddle” that embraces father and son alike; “Where does a man go, if he’s done wrong?”...Lewis’s crisp, forthright style and arresting character portraits lead toward a most satisfying payoff.”–Kirkus

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