By Zachary Lazar
Catapult, February 13, 2018
Zachary Lazar’s powerful and important novel was inspired by a passion play, The Life of Jesus Christ, he witnessed at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. As someone who writes “fiction, nonfiction, sometimes a hybrid of both,” the narrator of Vengeance, a character much like Lazar himself, tries to accurately view a world he knows is “beyond the limits of my small understanding.” In particular, he tries to unravel the truth behind the supposed crime of an inmate he meets and befriends, Kendrick King, who is serving a life sentence at Angola for murder.
As the narrator attempts to sort out what happened in King’s life―paying visits to his devoted mother, his estranged young daughter and her mother, his girlfriend, his brother, and his cousin―the writer’s own sense of identity begins to feel more and more like a fiction. He is one of the “free people” while Kendrick, who studies theology and philosophy, will never get his only wish, expressed plainly as “I just need to get out of here.” The dichotomy between their lives forces the narrator to confront the violence in his own past, and also to reexamine American notions of guilt and penance, racial bias, and the inherent perversity of punitive justice.
“The state of Louisiana is the world’s incarceration capital and Zachary Lazar, a resident of New Orleans, is a world-class novelist, who brings humility and sensitivity to this new book. The urgency of Lazar’s subject, combined with his graceful submission to it, makes Vengeance incredibly timely, and also timeless in its value as art.” —Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers, a National Book Award finalist
“I am stunned by the daring, meticulous, and unsentimental intelligence of this riveting book, and by Zachary Lazar’s self-questioning humility and honesty, his amazing powers of observation and human connection. Vengeance is a masterwork, the most important American book I’ve read this year, and the most moving and mesmerizing.” —Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name
“Zachary Lazar’s Vengeance is an elegant act of imagination and empathy that shows just how easily these can curdle, sometimes irretrievably, into skepticism and self- doubt. It’s the story of the writer Zach Lazar, a white man with a haunted past who meets, on a visit to Angola, the African-American Kendrick King, currently serving a long sentence for murder. Does Kendrick belong in prison, or is he, as he credibly claims, an innocent man? Or is the truth only ever a matter of speculation and the stories we chose to tell?” —Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came To The End
“Zachary Lazar’s Vengeance is so sharply and skillfully imagined, I had to keep reminding myself: ‘It’s a novel. It’s a novel.’ The story—about an alleged criminal serving time for his supposed crime—is mysterious in all the ways it ought to be; the riddle of his main character, Kendrick King, is the riddle of our justice system: How do we figure out what’s true, what’s real, what’s fair? Lazar made me think he had genuine tenderness for the people in this book. His writing can be beautifully quiet. But just when I worried he might go soft on me, he’d hit me upside the glasses with such raw clarity, which is precisely what I love about his books.” —Sarah Koenig, host and executive producer of Serial
About the Author
Zachary Lazar is the author of four books, including the novel Sway, chosen as a Best Book 0f 2008 by The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Publishers Weekly, and Newsday, the memoir Evening’s Empire: The Story of My Father’s Murder, a Best Book of 2009 in the Chicago Tribune, and I Pity The Poor Immigrant named one of the Best Books of 2014 by The New York Times and Salon. Lazar is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, NPR, BOMB, Fence, Brick, and other publications. He lives in New Orleans, where he is on the faculty at Tulane University.