The King Is Dead (Vintage Contemporaries) (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

A powerful novel of love, murder, and redemption, of politics and justice, The King Is Dead combines the resonance of a 19th-century epic with the surprise and intimacy of 21st-century story-telling. In the late 1950s, Walter Selby, aide to the governor of Tennessee, meets Nicole Lattimore. They fall in love, marry, have two children, and lead a charmed life in the circles of Walter's political connections. But when the government's eviction of a homesteading black family ends in tragedy, Walter resigns his post. He returns home only to receive another, more devastating blow: his wife has been unfaithful. The virtuous man snaps. He takes Nicole down to the river and kills her. Their son, Frank--orphaned by his father's crime and conviction--becomes an actor in today's New York City; part two takes up his story. Frank's career has stalled, but when a mysterious European grande dame approaches him about a new and puzzling film, he sets out on a journey to uncover the truth about his father's life and his mother's death. The King Is Dead is a story of origins, a tale of fathers and sons across America and across time. Told in gorgeous prose, it brings the mythic compellingly to life.

— From Alison


Returning a hero from the battlefields of World War II, Walter Selby settles into a charmed domestic life in Memphis. But in a few brief moments, Walter sees his life and his world fracture and split apart, driving him to commit a terrible crime.

Many years later, Frank Cartwright ponders his next move. His film career has left him wealthy but incomplete. When a director approaches him with a script that has a riddle for a plot Frank is intrigued by its resonance. In his search for an answer to the riddle, Frank embarks on a journey that will lead him into a past he doesn’t remember.

Jim Lewis, acclaimed author of Why the Tree Loves the Ax, returns with a novel stunning in its originality and scope. And as he tells the stories of two men and the conflicts that shape them, he delivers a powerful portrait of America and the treacherous currents that run through it.

About the Author

Jim Lewis was raised in New York and London. He has taught philosophy and literature at Columbia University, and has written about both politics and the arts for many magazines, journals, and museum catalogs. He has published two previous novels, Sister and Why the Tree Loves the Ax; and written a screenplay, based on a short story of his own, for Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Praise For…

"A ballad of murder and mythmaking. . . . Haunting." –The New York Times Book Review

“[An] eloquent meditation on the second half of the 20th century as reflected through the cracked prism of two flawed men.” —The Miami Herald

"Elegant and enigmatic. . . . Infused with Lewis's intelligence and empathy, The King is Dead is a sweeping tale of the century." –Esquire

“Marvelous and beautifully written. . . . The book creates a powerful narrative urgency as it approaches its end . . . and you find you have to force yourself to read more slowly, not wanting the experience to end.”–The Daily Telegraph (London)

The King is Dead takes the father-son conflict and deftly weaves it into a 20th-century American fable. . . . Lewis proves he can evoke intimate sadness within big stories. That’s the mark of real tragedy—and real art.” –The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Jim Lewis's sterling novel of politics, race, fidelity, and regret, is a model of literary economy . . . an epicworthy tale packed into a brisk 260 pages. . . . This is grand fiction." –Texas Monthly

"Genealogy counts for everything in Jim Lewis's absorbing diptych of self-discovery. . . . An effective examination of the search for truth in a divided family." –The Seattle Times

"The King is Dead is little less than a landmark, a moving-on outwards and upwards from midlife inertia, with all the attendant cries of release, towards something sad, illuminating, songful and shivering with life." –Time Out (London)

“[The King is Dead] does what novels should and so rarely do: encompass a great deal in a limited space, pass the inessential, and enlarge life.” –The New York Sun

"A beautifully sculpted narrative [of] political chicanery, domestic infidelity and murder. Magnificent!" –Independent on Sunday

"Like the classic Southern novelists (Faulkner, Warren, Percy) Lewis writes as though he means for you to enjoy it. . . . The King is Dead shows that Lewis has become a novelist to reckon with." –San Antonio Express-News

"A gripping novel that flashes over 50 years, exposing the way in which an instant can shatter a life." –The Times (London)

“A Faulknerian tale of crossed destines . . . masterfully told. . . . Compellingly readable and brilliant in design and style. . . . Startling and memorable. . . . Jim Lewis is a writer to relish.” –Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Jim Lewis is a writer of the same heavyweight stature as Franzen and David Foster Wallace. There is much to admire in how Lewis narrates his melancholy saga of love, betrayal, shame, loss, regret and disappointment across the generations. . . . A short review can barely do justice to the artfulness and deep intelligence of this novel. Above all, Jim Lewis persuades you that a single reading of his work is not enough.” –Scotland on Sunday

"The King is Dead is a marvelous book, and with it, Jim Lewis has come into full possession of a powerful literary voice whose main qualities are the hardest to come by: integrity, empathy, narrative allure, and wisdom. Lewis's moral intelligence purges his prose of every false move and cheap convention, burrowing ever closer to the truths about the pull and stain of heritage. This is a book of impeccable artistry." –Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex

"A refreshing throwback to the old baroque school of Southern writing, but with the difference that the fatalism, to which novelists like Faulkner and even Cormac McCarthy were as addicted as they were to whiskey, is absent." –The Austin Chronicle

"Lewis writes near faultless, witty, warm prose and his diverse characters spring to life. The King is Dead is a novel with both ideas and heart. Long live the king." –Irish Independent
Product Details
ISBN: 9780375714009
ISBN-10: 0375714006
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: October 12th, 2004
Pages: 272
Language: English
Series: Vintage Contemporaries