Lying with the Dead

Lying with the Dead

by Michael Mewshaw
     
 

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In this novel, Greek tragedy meets a dysfunctional family from Maryland, revealing how time and place matter little when it comes to the implacable logic of the darkest human emotions.
A family matriarch—half Medea, half Clytemnestra—calls home her three children, who take turns narrating the story. Quinn, the wonder boy who has become a successful… See more details below

Overview

In this novel, Greek tragedy meets a dysfunctional family from Maryland, revealing how time and place matter little when it comes to the implacable logic of the darkest human emotions.
A family matriarch—half Medea, half Clytemnestra—calls home her three children, who take turns narrating the story. Quinn, the wonder boy who has become a successful actor in London, must fly in from England, putting a new love interest and a career-boosting role in a BBC production of the Oresteia on hold. Maury, whose life is defined by his Asperger's and a terrible crime committed when he was a teenager, rides in on a bus from his quiet, impoverished life out west. Candy, the eldest at fifty-five and the only one still a devout Catholic, is already in Maryland, where she takes care of her mother and dreams of retiring to North Carolina with her boyfriend. Once the family is reassembled in the childhood home, the pieces of a dark puzzle come together over brilliant and witty exchanges. Mewshaw invites us into the heart of a family dynamic, exploding prejudices about love, religion, and murder.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Mewshaw (Year of the Gun) tackles a dysfunctional Irish-American family in an emotional novel narrated by the three adult children: 60-year-old Candy, who reluctantly cares for their manipulative and gravely ill mother; the Asperger's-afflicted former convict, Maury, who went to jail at 13 for killing their father; and the successful, London-based actor Quinn. As they are called to mom's bedside, the nonlinear story travels back to the origins of this “radioactive” family, dredging up dark secrets. Candy, who contracted polio as a child and endured her mother's physical and verbal abuse, wants to marry and move to North Carolina. Maury is dealing with Asperger's syndrome, which renders him intolerant of people touching him; and Quinn, despite his success, is haunted by his familial past. The three jaded yet sympathetic voices of the siblings are darkly expressive, supplying unnerving comic moments and unexpected twists. Mewshaw waxes poetic throughout while keeping the story moving forward to its shocking conclusion. (Oct.)
Library Journal
The author of 17 novels (e.g., Island Tempest), Mewshaw finds his latest inspiration in Greek tragedy. An elderly mother gathers together her three children: Quinn, who escaped the family to become a successful actor in London; Maury, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome and who served time in prison for murdering his father; and Candy, who at age 60 resents having to put off a chance for marriage to care for her mother in Maryland. Despite her age and failing health, their mother continues to wield Medea-like power over her offspring, and there are many references to the Oresteia, a story of murder and revenge in which Quinn is preparing to perform. While Candy and especially Quinn seem awfully whiny at first, they become more sympathetic as they roar against their unhappy childhoods. Especially effective is the climax, when we discover their mother's final request. And the multiple first-person points of view are interesting and distinct, especially that of Maury, who accepts his fate and tackles life one small step at a time. VERDICT Recommended for readers who love family dramas.—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC
Kirkus Reviews
A dying matriarch calls her children home to Maryland so she may confess her sins. Multifaceted Mewshaw (Island Tempest, 2004, etc.) diverges from his usual crime-tinged stories for a full-on dysfunctional family drama that aspires to be a Greek tragedy but is in fact an exasperatingly malformed novel. The book's rotating narrators orbit around their dreadful mother, who has forever scarred them. The worst of the lot is preening, self-absorbed Quinn, who has fled the country to adopt a pretentious facade as a popular British character actor. He's happy to send money home but reluctant to respond to Mom's summons and risk losing an upcoming role in a BBC adaptation of the Oresteia, Aeschylus' trilogy about the cycle of violence within the House of Atreus. The family martyr is Candy, the dutiful daughter who stayed behind to take care of her dying mother at the cost of her own happiness. "People insisted I was strong too because I stuck by Mom," Candy says. "But I knew better. I knew I stayed with her out of weakness." The most tragic figure is poetic, sensitive Maury, afflicted by Asperger syndrome, who is also revealed to have spent 12 years in a maximum-security prison for murdering his father with a butcher knife. Now living in California, Maury reluctantly returns home to reunite with his siblings at their mother's deathbed. While Mewshaw demonstrates his usual skill at voicing unusual characters, his cast is so vile and unpleasant, particularly the chain-smoking, hateful (and never-named) Mom who drives the plot, that it's hard to sympathize with any of them. The players are the weakest link in this bleak drama about bad blood, myths and the acrimony caused by truth.
From the Publisher
“Dazzling, suspenseful…The novel depicts in sparse, lyrically beautiful prose the tragedy of a dysfunctional family from Maryland whose formidable matriarch summons home her three children. Each sibling recounts his or her drama in turn during a final bedside reunion... Lying with the Dead is an impressive book by a world-class writer at the height of his powers. Mr. Mewshaw serves up a rich menu of disturbing food for thought not just for Catholics but for anyone concerned with the future of the family and the prospects for the survival of Christian values in the 21st century.”—The Washington Times

"Mewshaw has delivered an impeccable eleventh novel, Lying with the Dead, which plumbs the depths of one dysfunctional Maryland family's misery…[an] unvarnished portrait of a clan whose home is blessed with neither luck nor love."—Texas Monthly

“Even a clergyman would be hard pressed to find a forgiving word for the widow at the center of this flinty black comedy. A pill-popping, racist termagant whose sundry abuses have driven her two sons thousands of miles from their Maryland hometown, she stews in a fetid dwelling that has “that zombie stillness of a ‘silent neighbor,’ one of those pretend houses where the power company stores its meters and equipment.” Only her daughter, a 55-year-old polio survivor, lives close enough to regularly indulge Mom’s bile and guilt. In a sudden fit of fence-mending, this daughter is summoned for a visit along with her brothers: an ex-jailbird who is beset with that popular malady of the moment, Asperger’s syndrome, and a high-rolling actor whose renovated-abattoir home in London serves as a fantasy reproach to his tortured childhood. The three siblings trade off as narrators, with variable results: the actor emerges as a pull-string marionette of theatrical references, while his sister’s recollections of a children’s polio clinic cut like a knife. Mewshaw’s interlacing of viewpoints freshens this over-worked family-reunion terrain…”—The New York Times Book Review
 
"Mewshaw channels Aeschylus by way of Jerry Springer in this tale of three grown children reluctantly reunited to deal with the age-old question, 'What to do about Mom?'… Told through the viewpoints of each sibling, Mewshaw limns a macabre and mordantly satisfying satire of dysfunctional families."—Booklist

"Mewshaw tackles a dysfunctional Irish-American family in an emotional novel narrated by the three adult children: 60-year-old Candy, who reluctantly cares for their manipulative and gravely ill mother; the Asperger's-afflicted former convict, Maury, who went to jail at 13 for killing their father; and the successful, London-based actor Quinn. As they are called to mom's bedside, the nonlinear story travels back to the origins of this 'radioactive' family, dredging up dark secrets....The three jaded yet sympathetic voices of the siblings are darkly expressive, supplying unnerving comic moments and unexpected twists. Mewshaw waxes poetic throughout while keeping the story moving forward to its shocking conclusion."—Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590513552
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
10/06/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
File size:
2 MB

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Read an Excerpt

My neighbors, no kidding, buy tiger shit from the London Zoo and spread it over their flowerbeds. They believe its wild scent scares off animals. But I allow creatures large and small free rein of my property. Squirrels, hedgehogs, voles, and field mice (they mutate into rats and become fair game for traps if they sneak into the house) frolic for my amusement. On clear winter mornings like this one, a tawny fox, regal as a lion on the Serengeti, sometimes stretches out in the deep grass, soaking up the feeble warmth of the sun.

Today, however, I have no time to admire the view or search for the fox. I'm booked for lunch with my agent and a BBC producer. Already late, I nevertheless stroll to the restaurant by a circuitous route, reveling in cold air that rings like crystal. On certain streets, the walls of cottages huddle close, none more than a hand span apart. Each door is a different color–lipstick red, royal green, Della Robbia blue. At Admiral's Walk, in front of the white wooden mansion where Mary Poppins was filmed, a brigade of tourists gape as if expecting to spot Julie Andrews sailing overhead, pulled along by her umbrella.

At Whitestone Pond, the highest point in London, the water is usually like a detergent filled bucket stirred by a grimy mop. Today it glitters with jeweled ice. Convinced I've kept Mal and the man from the Beeb waiting long enough, I turn down Heath Street. The ethnicity of the restaurants along the road switches every month. Indian, Hungarian, Moroccan, Thai, Argentinean–maybe these joints just trade signs and go on serving the same grub. Only La Gaffe never changes. Despite the French name, it has an Italian menu and attracts a clientele divided evenly between those who look like Peter O'Toole and those who crane their necks looking for him.



From the Trade Paperback edition.

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