cover image Lady Lazarus

Lady Lazarus

Andrew Foster Altschul, . . Harcourt, $25 (561pp) ISBN 978-0-15-101484-2

In this gleeful, difficult debut, Altschul lays into an easy target—cynical celebrity culture—and meticulously crafts an over-the-top pop mirror world for his young heroine. Leaning heavily on the star mythology of Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and their daughter, Frances Bean, Altschul introduces Calliope Bird Morath, the most famous poet in America, “beloved to deconstructionists and culture theorists and fifteen-year-old girls alike.” Calliope’s childhood, revealed in retrospect, is haunted by a public fascination with her parents, mercurial rock ’n’ roll heroes Brandt Morath and Penny Power, a fascination continuing long after Brandt’s suicide when Calliope is a small child. Pushed by the demanding Penny to claim her father’s destiny, Calliope skips college to attend a prestigious M.F.A. program, and soon publishes a collection of poems that centers on Brandt’s death and sounds a lot like bad Sylvia Plath. The media swarms, and Calliope scandalizes—and perhaps really does find a path back to her father after all. Over the course of nearly 600 pages, Altschul registers some razor-sharp cultural observations and executes some thrilling high dives (the character named Andrew Altschul’s sessions with a Lacanian analyst in particular). But the book’s tricky PoMo narrative is bloated with gee-whiz grad-schoolisms, and storytelling takes a backseat to indulgence throughout. (Apr.)