“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 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.
It is common knowledge that we have an incarceration crisis in our country. Vengeance, by way of vivid storytelling, helps us to understand the failure of empathy and imagination that causes it.
Lazar's fourth novel (after I Pity the Poor Immigrant) is a moving if hyper-intellectualized meditation on wrongful imprisonment and America's broken criminal justice system. The work is inspired by a rendition of The Life of Jesus Christ that the author saw performed at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and includes rough biological sketches from his own life. The book's unnamed narrator is a fiction writer and journalist who visits Angola to interview inmates and document their lives. There, he meets Kendrick King, a 31-year-old black man who has already served nine years of his life sentence for murder. The catch: King insists he's innocent. Over the next several years, the narrator becomes more invested in King's case and interviews those close to King: his mother, his estranged brother, and the mother of King's now-teenage child. In doing so, he becomes convinced not only of his own insignificance, but also of the futility of King's predicament. When unpacking King's complicated backstory, Lazar ruminates on hot-button issues racial profiling and discrimination, police brutality, incarceration and rehabilitation, poverty and privilege but the lack of three-dimensional characters diminishes the impact of these ideas. Readers looking for an analytical, thorough examination of the justice system will find much to consider here.