I n a market where commercial viability is lord and master, Richard Grossman seems to be getting away with murder. That Mr. Grossman was able to get a publisher to put out his graphics-filled and expensively bound 500-page novel for $19.95 is a splendid demonstration of defiance. And surely Grossman wasn't overly concerned with commercial success when he decided to start The Book of Lazarus with 65 random pages of aphorisms ("Technology demands the abandonment of dignity"), scrawled New Year's resolutions ("I promise to stop thinking I'm so beautiful when I know I'm not"), photographs of the dead, frantic personal letters, and other literary odds and ends.
Not to give away any pleasant surprises, but a third of the way through, a narrator does shows up to make sense of this scrapbook--if only for a mere 46 pages. Emma O'Banion, who describes herself as "a lesbian rough-trade Catholic intellectual," receives an unexpected call one day from her father Mitch. After deserting the family 20 years prior, and leaving Emma to live with a drug-addicted mother and her pedophilic friends, Mitch has called to mention that he's dying. Not surprisingly, Emma hangs up on him. But after Mitch's death, curiosity gets the better of her, and Emma begins to discover all sorts of sordid things about her family's involvement in organized crime and political terrorism.
For all the abuses that fill the book, Grossman points out enough hypocrisies in his characters' lives to keep their stories from slumming in tragedy. As Mitch puts it, "Existence is unmitigated pretension, stupidity and boredom... we are burdened with lunkish meat from the very beginning, when we were gobs of flesh."