cover image Tenement of Clay

Tenement of Clay

Paul West, Author McPherson $20 (214p) ISBN 978-0-929701-27-1

First published in England in 1965, West's ( Lord Byron's Doctor ) first novel is a depressing account of homelessness and spiritual death. Set in New Babylon, this eccentric story revolves around Papa Nick, a nurturing old man who lives among the destitute and desperate; Pee Wee Lazarus, a midget professional wrestler; and Lacland, a homeless man whom Nick takes in. This novel, for the most part, is a character study of these figures as they encounter betrayal, hopelessness and the overdetermined vagaries of those who live on society's margins. After finding Lacland on the streets and housing him in a basement for rehabilitation, Papa Nick goodnaturedly sets about bringing order and commitment to the homeless man's life. Lacland learns quickly and is soon the toast of the town. Eventually, though, he withdraws from Papa Nick and, when he is involved in a young woman's drowning, begins to slide back into his old ways. This Eliza Doolittle-turned-Frankenstein story revolves around the themes of liberal intentions gone awry and the decay of neighborly community values. Not for the faint of heart, this is a dark, unrelenting novel. (Feb.)