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Elysian Fields Paperback – October 2, 2013
"A wholly involving story with Faulknerian characters in a fully realized setting. [A] tale of brotherly love and menace. . . . LaFlaur's descriptive talent shines. Fertile imagery drips like Spanish moss . . . [Main character] Simpson's mental landscape is equally vivid, drawn with . . . empathy and depth . . ." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"[R]eaders will find the author's portrayal of New Orleans convincing and his characters fascinating and fully developed. . . . Life in the Weems family of 1999 New Orleans is anything but Elysian in this engrossing Southern Gothic snapshot. . . . LaFlaur deftly alternates between character perspectives, delving into perceptions and motivations . . . " --Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A stunning debut . . . A look at the interplay of the figures in this working-class clan on Invalides Street has shades of Tennessee Williams, Faulkner and John Kennedy Toole impressed in its pages, yet [Elysian Fields] transcends those influences to become an original vision all its own. . . . LaFlaur gently and expertly pulls readers along with his characters, never flinching in the face of their foibles, giving us reasons to care what happens to them . . ." --Antigravity (Your New Orleans Alternative to Culture), March 2013 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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The characters are alive & real, punctuated by occasional dark humor, despite some of them living in the past. New Orleans today is rich with immigrants from other cities; so one doesn't often encounter such old-school types unless one has lived there for a long time, but they are there - and Jesus too (as the character Bartholomew Weems testifies). "Chir-actors," as Dr. John would say.
All of that aside, this is a story well-told (set before catastrophic hurricanes Katrina & Rita)- with even more dunces than 'A Confederacy of Dunces.' And yet, a message of hope for the future comes in its resolution.
The non-linear time-frame exposition is perfect for a play or screenplay. So when does the movie-version & the next novel come out? Can't wait.
Delicious, nutritious, even slightly pernicious!
This book is a masterpiece, a term not to be dispensed blithely. Laugh-out-loud comedy in characterization, dialogue, and situation. Barto creates quite a stir when during his reluctant job search he trips over a footstool and falls into a bookshelf at the public library, causing multiple stacks to fall into each other like so many dominoes, toppling thousands of volumes onto the floor. Buzz, a long-time friend of the boys’ mother Melba, “was plump like Melba, but despite all her years at the bakery, she wasn’t as far gone as some of her customers, the ones who always had to have ‘two a dem and gimme six a doze.’”
While there are farcical elements—and some fantastic ones, too—this book is also a penetrating meditation on the difficulty of living the life of the mind, and the manner in which one comes to know oneself and gain wisdom only by slow accretion of life experiences. An artistic introvert, Simpson was bullied in high school, and frustrated thereafter by self-criticism as he struggled as a poet. In trying to write, Simpson “scratched out lines, and over time became a ruthlessly efficient self-cancellation machine that rejected as unworthy each little idea and would not accept a rough draft.” Ah, to write such a sentence. This is what you experience in reading LaFlaur—a keen intellect, a skilled wordsmith, and an author who speaks directly to you. Beyond all of this, you find near-Proustian sensory evocations of moods and remembrances through place description, and characters one might find in The Confederacy of Dunces, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and the novels of Dickens, Doig, and Haruf.
This is a novel to read—not to read about. Please do.
One of my pet peeves is misspelling, poor grammar or misused words-it sometimes causes me to lose track of the plot. It seems to happen a lot lately, but NOT ON THIS BOOK! The editors did a great job making the book as excellent as Mark did making it outstanding!
The most encouraging part may be the last line in "About the Author". It says Mark is working on a new novel...bring it on!
Laflaur's deft storytelling (it is not easy to put the book down), and his uncanny abilty to build atmospheres, (it's as if you could feel the moisture in New Orleans, glimpse at the mad, poetic logic of its night wanderers, and sense a sharpening of your awareness on the streets of San Franciso), the novel's very palpable qualities in sum pull you in, deeper and deeper until you have no doubt you share in the humanity of the Weems' family members - Simpson, Bartholomew, Melba, and Gaspar - regardless of how radically different each character is from the other. In the process, you know you've gone on a journey of discovery, from the painful unravelling of emotional bonds to their awkward but hopeful renewal. From the daily grind of working a xerox machine for a living to the nocturnal magic that comes to those happy few who know how to find the "sweet spot" of Mardi Gras.