"A ballad of murder and mythmaking. . . . Haunting." –The New York Times Book Review
“[An] eloquent meditation on the second half of the 20th century as reflected through the cracked prism of two flawed men.” —The Miami Herald
"Elegant and enigmatic. . . . Infused with Lewis's intelligence and empathy, The King is Dead is a sweeping tale of the century." –Esquire
“Marvelous and beautifully written. . . . 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.”–The Daily Telegraph (London)
“The King is Dead takes the father-son conflict and deftly weaves it into a 20th-century American fable. . . . Lewis proves he can evoke intimate sadness within big stories. That’s the mark of real tragedy—and real art.” –The San Diego Union-Tribune
"Jim Lewis's sterling novel of politics, race, fidelity, and regret, is a model of literary economy . . . an epicworthy tale packed into a brisk 260 pages. . . . This is grand fiction." –Texas Monthly
"Genealogy counts for everything in Jim Lewis's absorbing diptych of self-discovery. . . . An effective examination of the search for truth in a divided family." –The Seattle Times
"The King is Dead is little less than a landmark, a moving-on outwards and upwards from midlife inertia, with all the attendant cries of release, towards something sad, illuminating, songful and shivering with life." –Time Out (London)
“[The King is Dead] does what novels should and so rarely do: encompass a great deal in a limited space, pass the inessential, and enlarge life.” –The New York Sun
"A beautifully sculpted narrative [of] political chicanery, domestic infidelity and murder. Magnificent!" –Independent on Sunday
"Like the classic Southern novelists (Faulkner, Warren, Percy) Lewis writes as though he means for you to enjoy it. . . . The King is Dead shows that Lewis has become a novelist to reckon with." –San Antonio Express-News
"A gripping novel that flashes over 50 years, exposing the way in which an instant can shatter a life." –The Times (London)
“A Faulknerian tale of crossed destines . . . masterfully told. . . . Compellingly readable and brilliant in design and style. . . . Startling and memorable. . . . Jim Lewis is a writer to relish.” –Memphis Commercial Appeal
“Jim Lewis is a writer of the same heavyweight stature as Franzen and David Foster Wallace. There is much to admire in how Lewis narrates his melancholy saga of love, betrayal, shame, loss, regret and disappointment across the generations. . . . A short review can barely do justice to the artfulness and deep intelligence of this novel. Above all, Jim Lewis persuades you that a single reading of his work is not enough.” –Scotland on Sunday
"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." –Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex
"A refreshing throwback to the old baroque school of Southern writing, but with the difference that the fatalism, to which novelists like Faulkner and even Cormac McCarthy were as addicted as they were to whiskey, is absent." –The Austin Chronicle
"Lewis writes near faultless, witty, warm prose and his diverse characters spring to life. The King is Dead is a novel with both ideas and heart. Long live the king." –Irish Independent
There are books that seek to give ordinary life the status of myth, as if offering a shortcut to the peculiar immortality conferred on the straying heroines and vengeful heroes of the murder ballads. If this novel did only that -- if it declined to follow Walter Selby's son into the present -- it would be much less interesting. It accomplishment lies in reversing the mythmaking process, freeing the Selby family from the gothic enchantments of History and restoring them to human scale.
Every act is fraught with significance in this intermittently powerful but overwrought novel, set between 1950s Tennessee and present-day New York. Like an American passion play, Lewis's story is one of sin and redemption, told in flowing, dramatic prose. Walter Selby is an aide to the governor of Tennessee; he works as hard at his behind-the-scenes politicking as he does in wooing his wife, the lovely Nicole. Their happy life together comes to an abrupt end on the day Walter resigns from his job after tragically botching a government eviction, then comes home to find his wife with another man. The terrible crime he commits separates him forever from his six-year-old son, Frank, and baby daughter, Gail. Years later, Frank, now a successful actor, is driven to investigate his parents' past after an encounter with an eccentric elderly director who tries to persuade him to take a role in a film, the plot of which stirs strange sentiments in him ("a young Prince... is newly appointed to the throne after the death of his father, and soon discovers evidence of a taint on the palace"). Frank's muddled journey takes him to Tennessee and then deep into his family's murky history. Lewis's luminous language serves him well in the early going; his descriptions of '50s-era Tennessee and of Walter and Nicole's passionate marriage are rich and convincingly detailed. But when the story turns to abstract musings, the top-heavy sentences slip into portentousness, and the choruses of "Frank, oh, Frank" and "Oh oh oh Frank" strike an almost comical note. Lewis (Sister; Why the Tree Loves the Ax) is a talented writer, but his overblown lyricism gets the better of this ambitious novel. (July 25) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The father of little Frank and Gail, undone when his wife commits adultery, kills her on the banks of a Tennessee river and then spends many years in prison. The children, raised and cherished by another couple, are not told of this tragedy. The adult Frank, now a movie star, is pressed to examine his origins when offered an acting role in an enigmatic film about fathers and sons. Set in the 1950s, long characterized as a placid era but here displayed as far more complex, Lewis's third novel (after his remarkable 1993 debut Sister and the well-received Why the Tree Loves the Ax) shimmers with ancient truths told with bold, poetic beauty. The author burnishes his themes of love, identity, and redemption in this remarkably affecting tale of two men who become open to each other in a revelatory moment. Fiction collections everywhere will benefit from this title, and librarians will want to keep track of Lewis's future work.-Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A legacy of instability and alienation plagues two generations in this ruthlessly compact third outing by Lewis (Why the Tree Loves the Ax, 1999, etc.). A tricky structure that involves leaps forward and backward in time and seemingly unrelated subplots eventually discloses connections between WWII hero and political functionary Walter Selby and his son Frank, a film actor whose burden of untold family secrets propels him into early retirement. The story's first half depicts Walter's infatuation with his eventual wife, beautiful, distractible Nicole Lattimore; his disillusioning tenure as aide to Tennessee's manipulative governor; and Walter's heartbroken discovery of Nicole's infidelity, after which he shoots her to death and is sent to prison. The second half portrays Frank as a foster child (who takes the surname of his "new" parents the Cartwrights) raised with his younger sister Gloria in ignorance of their family's past; a teenager obsessed with a seductive classmate (Kimmie Remington) on her way to becoming an irreversible paranoid schizophrenic; and a middle-aged divorced father whose buried energies are reawakened when aging film queen Lenore Riviere tempts him with a "riddling" story of a bastard prince's moral quandary involving his betrayed father and adulterous mother (which is, incidentally, the source of Lewis's title). There are also loosely related episodes featuring a murdered lottery winner and an itinerant Native American, and inexplicably, the full text of Casey Stengel's testimony before Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver's Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee. Lewis doesn't pull all these materials together, but does create some smashing effects in his dénouement, asFrank 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?" The tale's circuitous, cryptic organization is daunting, but Lewis's crisp, forthright style and arresting character portraits lead toward a most satisfying payoff.