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Summer 2018 Reading Group Indie Next List
“While visiting the Angola prison to watch an Easter pageant, a writer meets Kendrick King, a black inmate facing life imprisonment for a crime he says he didn’t commit. The subsequent investigation into Kendrick’s life becomes a look at just what the truth means in a society built upon a flawed justice system. Lazar handles the unnamed writer’s doubts with aplomb as the investigation spreads across people from Kendrick’s past life, striving to answer questions that do not have easy answers and, quite frankly, may not be answerable at all. Vengeance handles its burden of unanswerable questions well in a time where the even the most obvious of truths is met with skepticism.”
— Steven Shonder, Anderson's Bookshops, Naperville, IL
"Tense and evocative . . . Despite its powerful social critique, Vengeance is cautious and prismatic, openly troubled by its own claims to authority." --Katy Waldman, The New Yorker
As someone who writes "fiction, nonfiction, sometimes a hybrid of both," the narrator of Vengeance
, a character much like Zachary Lazar himself, tries to accurately view a world he knows is "beyond the limits of my small understanding." In particular, he is compelled 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.
Inspired by a passion play, The Life of Jesus Christ
, he witnessed at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Vengeance
, by way of vivid storytelling, helps us to understand the failure of empathy and imagination that perpetuates the incarceration crisis in our country. "The state of Louisiana is the world's incarceration capital, and Zachary Lazar is a world-class novelist, who brings humility and sensitivity to this book (Rachel Kushner).