About Elysian Fields


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Named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2013 and one of 14 Best Indie General Fiction titles for 2013 (Kirkus).

Winner of rare “double crown” of starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews; Publishers Weekly Featured Fiction selection.

Simpson Weems is a 36-year-old aspiring poet whose life has been on hold—to the breaking point. All he needs to fulfill his potential is to move to San Francisco, but he’s torn between his long-held dream of being a great artist and obligations to his ailing mother and his emotionally volatile brother, the all-demanding Bartholomew. Will someone in his family have to die before he can get to California? And how might that be arranged?

Written “on location” in New Orleans and set shortly before Hurricane Katrina, Elysian Fields has been likened to works by Tennessee Williams, Walker Percy, Robert Penn Warren, and Rabelais. It combines the comic strangeness of Flannery O’Connor and hints of magical realism to convey highly individualized characters and a Crescent City that is both recognizable and more offbeat and seductive than visitors usually see, from Bourbon Bath, a water-pleasure house in the Vieux Carré (“Warm Baths with Hot, Slippery Wet-Dream Girls!”) to a fantastical Carnival interlude in a subterranean tavern deep beneath the French Quarter.



Praise for Elysian Fields

 

“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: the old buildings collapsing, ‘as though the humidity-sodden bricks were returning to mud,’ while ‘cloud stacks glowed like the battlements of heaven.’ [Main character] Simpson’s mental landscape is equally vivid, drawn with such empathy and depth that readers will forgive his perpetual indecision and may even root for him to carry out the removal of his near-deranged brother.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

 

“Readers 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. As Simpson ponders whether to kill his brother Bartholomew, he reflects upon their upbringing with mother Melba. At age 36, Simpson works in a copy shop, but fantasizes of escaping to San Francisco and being a famous poet. The obstacle is Bartholomew—as a second grader, he spent a year in a psychiatric ward—who is presented vividly as possibly autistic and ‘laced with idiot savantism.’ LaFlaur deftly alternates between character perspectives, delving into perceptions and motivations. . . . Simpson’s perception of haunted New Orleans hammers home LaFlaur’s implication that life consists mostly of dealing with your ghosts.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

“In this compelling and mesmerizing debut novel, Mark LaFlaur has taken on New Orleans in a big way. Elysian Fields is real literature coming out of a real place. A great addition to the already substantial body of New Orleans writing, it’s a story of such originality that the familiar top layer of the city is peeled away. The local color here is handled just right—the depiction of the city’s neighborhoods and peculiarities is right on—but it’s the deeply individualized characters who anchor the story so solidly.”

Christine Wiltz, bestselling author of The Last Madam and Glass House, and winner of the Louisiana Writer Award for 2013

 

Fans of A Confederacy of Dunces and The Moviegoer will find much to admire in this well-written, funny, and melancholy—and thoroughly New Orleans—novel. Evocative, poignant, complex and well paced, Elysian Fields is full of delights.”

Moira Crone, winner of the Robert Penn Warren Award, Fellowship of Southern Writers, and author of The Not Yet

 

“An excellent, mesmerizing novel that recalls some of the very best writings of Robert Penn Warren. . . . The characters in this book, especially Simpson’s brother, are strong and richly individualized, much like the city in which they dwell. LaFlaur fans have likened this book to A Confederacy of Dunces and The Moviegoer, but I found myself consistently recalling master novelist Robert Penn Warren. . . . Excellent, intelligent, and poignant.”

H. P. Albarelli Jr., author of A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments 

 

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 magazine (Your New Orleans Alternative to Culture), March 2013

 

Meet the Characters 

Simpson Weems, a 36-year-old, 6′ 6″ copy shop clerk who never finished college (father died), dreams of moving to San Francisco to self-actualize. He is planning an exploratory trip in just a few weeks (Mother doesn’t know). Only out on the “Best Coast” will he ever be far enough away from the intolerable family vibrations that distract him from writing more than the first line of a poem. 

The Quotable Simpson:“All I want is to live where I want to live,” Simpson nearly shouted, forgetting his deep breathing. “I’ve been stuck in this swamp, wasting my life away in this dead-end copy shop ’cause you made me promise to help you take care of him, but year after year goes by and you’re both strangling me! How can I be a poet when I can’t even breathe?”

*

“I should have gone years ago, but . . . I still don’t know if I can really do it, you know. Leave Mom. I’m afraid of what it might do to her, but not going is killing me. I can’t decide: Have I stayed because I’m weak, or is staying here the stronger thing to do? And my brother’s such a drain on her, like a gluttonous vampire. Meanwhile I can’t write here. Can’t concentrate with their gravitational force pulling on me and all their radio static in the air. So I’m in a fix.” 

Bartholomew Weems, Simpson’s younger but equally tall and much heavier brother, high-I.Q. but emotionally volatile, always hungry, a devout Christian who has decided that church is “idolatrous.” Reads news items for the blind on a community radio station (unpaid). His best (only) friend is an old, blind former preacher.

The Quotable Bartholomew: “Simpson’s doing something naughty and sinful that would just slay our mother if she ever found out. And he’s always wanted to get rid of me, you know. He never wanted me. . . . He goes to a place on Bourbon Street and takes baths with a naked girl!”

Melba Weems, their mother, who wants only the best for her sons: marriage to a nice girl for Simpson, who shows no such inclination or likelihood, and financial security for Bartholomew, who cannot be bothered to cooperate.

The Quotable Melba: “Oh, I don’t know, Pumpkin, you know things just kind of flit through my head like birds of a feather and I don’t pay ’em much mind, but I’m sure I’ve prob’ly felt things close up and far away just like you say you have. I think it just means you’re a normal healthy growing boy.”

Gasper Weems, the long-dead but still present father, formerly a “near-master” taxidermist, died from a fall (several, actually), now buried in the cemetery across the street, visited only by Bartholomew, who remembers to the day and the hour how long his father has been dead.

The Quotable Gasper: “What we need is babies, Melba. We’re a family now. We need to do something about that.” 

*

Gasper laughed heartily at the sight of all his family crying at once—for him! It was just too funny.

“Y’all just goin’ nuts, all of y’all, thinking a man like me ’d bump his head and die,” he giggled, covering his mouth. “I think I just got a little disconnected there for a while.” 

Copyright © 2015 by Mark LaFlaur