From John Updike Award-winner Zachary Lazar, an autobiographical novel that blurs the lines between fiction and true crime, about a journalist who befriends an inmate at Louisiana's Angola prison. As he attempts to unravel the truth behind the man's supposed crime, he is also confronted with his own past, and re-examines American notions of guilt and penance, racial bias, and the inherent perversity of punitive justice.
One cannot help but get immersed in this man’s harrowing but compelling story ... reality and fiction are muddled up. Like the tragedy of Hamlet, we get a play within a work of fiction that could itself be real—layers upon layers of story ... It would be tempting to call Vengeance a protest novel, though that label wouldn’t be fair because it makes it seem like art is secondary to the work, and it isn’t. Zachary Lazar is gifted writer, and his sentences often sparkle as much as they surprise ... Vengeance presents a unique challenge to the reader. If the old adage for reading fiction is to 'suspend disbelief,' then one must take the opposite approach for this book: to suspend belief.
Lazar blurs the lines of reality and imagination in this captivating, provocative novel that reads like nonfiction. The stark depiction of Angola, the largest maximum-security prison in the United States, strikes the reader with such force, the sting leaves an emotional mark ... Vengeance is profound in its exploration of the U.S. penal system. It's empathetic without being sentimental in the treatment of its characters, both in and outside the walls of the prison. Lazar's novel is a beautiful specimen of storytelling while simultaneously challenging its audience to reach deep and question the very core of their beliefs. Lazar delivers his tale with language that mirrors the dichotomy of his themes. He can be flowingly poetic or brutally blunt. But he's always effective. Settle in and prepare to be changed by this powerful novel.
What Vengeance really attempts to unravel is the problem of injustice, although it is not a protest novel. Despite its powerful social critique, it is cautious and prismatic, openly troubled by its own claims to authority ... To call Vengeance a 'novel,' therefore, is like titling one of M. C. Escher’s hallucinatory trompe-l’oeils 'Landscape' or 'House.' The art in question is far more deceptive and slippery than the name suggests ... Does life—anyone’s life—have an inherent design, and does that design hold meaning? In some ways, such a deft and supple novel can’t help but voice confidence in its own methods, or at least find redeeming value in the devices of fiction ... Vengeance, itself a tissue of echoes and associations that asks the reader to fill in its gaps, is not ready to dismiss the world’s jumble of shards as meaningless.