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Lady Lazarus Hardcover – April 14, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this gleeful, difficult debut, Altschul lays into an easy target—cynical celebrity culture—and meticulously crafts an over-the-top pop mirror world for his young heroine. Leaning heavily on the star mythology of Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and their daughter, Frances Bean, Altschul introduces Calliope Bird Morath, the most famous poet in America, beloved to deconstructionists and culture theorists and fifteen-year-old girls alike. Calliope's childhood, revealed in retrospect, is haunted by a public fascination with her parents, mercurial rock 'n' roll heroes Brandt Morath and Penny Power, a fascination continuing long after Brandt's suicide when Calliope is a small child. Pushed by the demanding Penny to claim her father's destiny, Calliope skips college to attend a prestigious M.F.A. program, and soon publishes a collection of poems that centers on Brandt's death and sounds a lot like bad Sylvia Plath. The media swarms, and Calliope scandalizes—and perhaps really does find a path back to her father after all. Over the course of nearly 600 pages, Altschul registers some razor-sharp cultural observations and executes some thrilling high dives (the character named Andrew Altschul's sessions with a Lacanian analyst in particular). But the book's tricky PoMo narrative is bloated with gee-whiz grad-schoolisms, and storytelling takes a backseat to indulgence throughout. (Apr.)
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"Entertaining and surprisingly elegant... Nimble prose and an ironic but not smart-alecky stance keep this story moving along nicely... a promising start." (Kirkus Reviews 2008-03-15)

"Altschul playfully and humorously delivers his novel in a pseudo-documentary style while exploring the serious themes of truth, group hysteria, and the transience of human existence."--Library Journal (Library Journal 2008-03-15)

"Lady Lazarus is a brilliant examination of the cultural pull exerted by the famous and the dead. Many ghosts haunt the pages of this gripping novel. It casts over the reader that same spell cast by the real-life stories of the talented and the doomed." (Heidi Julavits, author of USES OF ENCHANTMENT 2008-02-10)

"Altschul is one of our great young writers, and Lady Lazarus is the proof. A poetic satire of rock and roll, and a rock and roll ode to poetry, it mirrors its heroine: smart, gorgeous, and funny as hell." (Andrew Sean Greer, author of THE CONFESSIONS OF MAX TIVOLI 2008-02-10)

"A sort of Gen X answer to Don DeLillo''s boomer epic Underworld; it uses alt rock as a springboard to address all of the human condition." (Minneapolis Star Tribune 2008-05-23)

"Astounding... You''ve never read anything quite like it." (San Francisco Magazine 2008-08-01)

"At last, a term for the self-destructive celebrities that so fascinate (and dominate) American culture: Death Artists." (Sacramento News & Review 2008-05-29)

"Lady Lazarus is fun, sure, but Altschul is serious as a heart attack... A certain Seattle band is only the starting point of this smart, funny, breath-taking novel about celebrity, literature, and the elusive truth." (Uptown Magazine 2008-07-10)

"Altschul is one smart cookie and a fabulist of no little talent. Lady Lazarus is ambitious, virtuostic, epic, and worthy of the oohs and ahhs of literate rock fans... Maybe tell them it''s the Quadrophenia of books?" (GalleyCat 2008-07-15)

"Some of the smartest, insightful, and flat-out funny writing about rock and roll celebrity since Neal Pollack''s Never Mind the Pollacks." (Blurt 2008-07-23)

"If you''re a fan of postmodern fiction... Altschul''s debut makes an excellent addition to the canon. You should read this book." (PopMatters 2008-06-19)

"In these pages Andrew Altschul conducts the wildest possible love affair with style. These pages are lit by the most seditious literary cunning... Andrew Altschul may be shinily modern - postmodern - in every other way, but he is also that ancient thing, a born storyteller capable of breaking your heart." (Elizabeth Tallent)

"Altschul writes in gorgeous, fluid prose with a slyly ironic tone." (Palo Alto Weekly 2008-06-04)

"Lady Lazarus takes the idea of celebrity and turns it upside down... This debut novel reads like a rock biography but ends up questioning the importance of art in a postmodern world. " (BlogCritics Magazine 2008-06-24)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (April 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151014841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014842
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,835,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Andrew Foster Altschul is the author of two novels: "Deus Ex Machina" and "Lady Lazarus." He is an O. Henry Prize-winning short story writer, with work published in Esquire, Ploughshares, Zyzzyva, McSweeney's, Fence, and elsewhere. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford, he has also received fellowships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers Conferences and the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. He was the founding books editor of The Rumpus, and is now a Contributing Editor at Zyzzyva and the director of the Center for Literary Arts at San Jose State University. Visit him at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on September 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A kind friend gave me a copy of this book when it was still in its white, ARC covers. the same design as the resulting green edition, but noticeably more sepulchral. I had met the author through the offices of Lynne Tillman, who recommended him as one of the outstanding voices of tomorrow. His book is massive and must have taken years to write, though the initial conception must have come like a stroke of lightning: weren't Sylvia and Ted, like, the first punks? The way they kissed when they first met, biting each other at the party--wasn't that a bit like the legendary love affair between Kurt and Courtney? What if they were actually all the same people, and they had a daughter too, so that the daughter could go through the same torment of father loving and hating that Sylvia felt for Otto, the beekeeper who put Electra on Azalea Path, and put it in the rock world, and the world of postmodern media ? Then you would have a recipe for something truly radical and daring.

Then on top of it, Foster Altchul invents a toadying, prosy sort of biographer narrator who's even more of a sad sack then the one in Nabokov's PALE FIRE, and gives him his own name to muddy the simple waters that used to divide reader, writer, narrator, and audience.

Calliope, the heroine of the story, saw her dad commit suicide when she was just a child, and out of this trauma she becomes a poet with a huge worldwide audience who sympathize with her "live through this" attitude and her eventual reinvention of herself as a "death artist." She becomes the host of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and Maya Angelou records her poems, so she has this cross-cultural appeal that, I wonder, isn't made even more humorously unbelievable by the examples of her poetry that the biographer keeps quoting like they were genius.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If the great author F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he said that the test of first-rate intelligence is "the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function," then author Andrew Altschul is scary-smart. In his debut novel, Lady Lazarus [Harcourt], Altschul plays with plenty of ideas at once, including Zen Buddhism, the high-minded literary theories of Lacan and Derrida, psychoanalysis, romantic and familial love, and the idea of structure itself, all juxtaposed against a backdrop of poetry and alternative rock.

Lady Lazarus is the purposefully thin-guised story of the Cobain's, lavishly interwoven with poetic and personal details of the great poet Sylvia Plath's life. Think of the premise as this: Alt-grunge superstar Brandt Morath (Kurt Cobain) and his psycho-bitch, punk-rock wife Penelope "Penny" Power (Courtney Love), have a baby girl they call Calliope Bird (Francis Bean). Brandt commits suicide, Penny goes Hollywood between tantrums and drug binges, and Bird grows up to become, as Altschul said in his recent reading at St. Louis' Left Bank Books, "the World's most famous poet, which is not to be confused with the World's greatest poet."

Initially, at least for Plath-freaks who also know a little something about Nirvana (and doesn't everyone know a little something about Nirvana?) Lady Lazarus feels a bit like a game: Oh! Electra on Azalea Path! The Earthenware Head! Courtship with a bite on the cheek! The Double Self! The Beekeeper!

Ah, but that's just Altschul setting the mood. Fifty pages in, you're entertained.
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By Richard Fazio on February 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
You start to read not knowing what you'll get. You find rock `n' roll content. Unexpectedly, you discover a mystery with over-the-top satire. That's even more appealing, you think to yourself. You're bewildered by scenes you'd never anticipated but you keep reading because you`ve become so engrossed. Do you find the narrative far-fetched? Most assuredly. But you proceed with stunned fascination, not believing that you've gotten as far into the book as you have. Most shocking is that you can't stop because you love every word of its outrageous subject matter. Is it enigmatic, almost unfathomable? Yes, but there's no way to get around the fact that you're totally entertained. Eventually, you may even forget why you'd started to read this book in the first place (as if you really needed a reason!).

However you look at it, you're guaranteed to remember the adventures of Calliope Bird Morath. She's the heroine of this debut novel by Andrew Foster Altschul. If you have an open mind and are willing to suspend disbelief more than once, you'll find ample reward at the end of every scene. You'll also come across poetry, hero worship, the supernatural and magical realism. Indeed, Altschul's imaginative writing goes out on the proverbial limb. After all, there's something to be said for a writer fearless enough to challenge readers with his work. I, for one, feel greatly recompensed for my time spent reading Lady Lazarus.
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By Toni V. Sweeney on January 18, 2015
Format: Hardcover
As a child, Calliope Bird Morath witnessed the suicide of her father legendary punk rock star Brandt Morath. Thereafter, she lived in the shrine his mother made of his life and of the child who was his living embodiment. When Calliope grows up, she becomes a star in her own right, a poet...partly through use of the aura of fame and tragedy surrounding her, the rest through her own talent. Somewhere in this miasma of fame, fortune, memory, grief, and misery, Calliope and her self-appointed biographer go on a odyssey to find Brandt Morath whom Calliope believes is alive. It is through this journey that the real Calliope is revealed...the child lost in misery, searching through her words to pen her emotions and the loss she feels...and revealing that the children of the famed are cursed to merely repeat the sins of their parents, instead of rising above and conquering them.

A disturbing chronicle, the insets, footnotes, and asides by the narrator giving it a documentary and eerily authentic and realistic quality.

This novel is owned by the reviewer and no remuneration was involved in the writing of this review.
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