...ambitious and metaphorically dense... Rich, a resident of New Orleans, throws his arms wide open to history and to the city, and King Zeno, particularly in its first half, is as unruly and laterally active as a big urban novel ought to be. And the novel, like a city, somehow coheres, as Rich never loses control of the riotous raw material. The close third-person point of view rotates among three central figures, providing pattern and the promise of convergence; the mysterious ax murders serve as a narrative through-line; the canal exerts centripetal and allegorical force; and the extraordinary American yearning of the characters... Despite his large canvas, Rich is a gifted portraitist of his three main characters ... This is a novel with a high body count, but it has far too much energy ever to feel morbid ... The resolution is exciting and tense, and yet after all of the novel’s artful chaos, it feels like a diminution.
Has anyone written the Great Novel of New Orleans? If not, Nathaniel Rich’s sprawling, funny, tragic, generous new work, King Zeno, comes close. It reminded this reviewer of John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy, with its clever melding of real and fictional events, its snippets of newspaper articles and astonishingly memorable characters ... Like the U.S.A. novels, the action in King Zeno takes place around the time of World War I ... Rich not only knows these folks and their loved ones, but he also knows New Orleans. He loves the honky-tonks, cathouses and bayous, the names of its streets and even the fetid mud and miasmic summer heat. He is cognizant of the city’s racial hierarchies... Readers will genuinely worry for Isadore and his friends, ever threatened by this sledgehammer of racism. Because of this, the ending is a nail-biter — with a twist.
Like a meal at one of New Orleans’ famed eateries, Nathaniel Rich’s new novel, King Zeno, offers a groaning board of tasty literary treats ... Within its sprawling reach, King Zeno is essentially the tale of three New Orleanians of disparate backgrounds whose stories become violently entwined over the course of 1918 ...offers a gritty, panoramic portrait of the Big Easy, from its brothels and concert halls to the mansions of the Garden District ... Rich’s novel is a hybrid of literary fiction and police procedural, and for much of the book he manages to pull off this balancing act ...full of sharply rendered minor characters, gallows humor and finely observed descriptions ... Other readers may find themselves wanting a different configuration. Yet, the fact that Rich comes so close to executing this ambitious literary banquet is in itself a remarkable achievement.