Ethan Cohen's Reviews > Black Lotus

Black Lotus by Lita Lepie
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it was amazing

Possibly one of the most artful colloquial narratives of the past decade finds its home in the tantalizing and peculiar Black Lotus. The hardboiled mystery novel, dubbed “film noir in a book” by one critic, functions like a testimonial documentary as the characters take turns narrating the greater story. This arguably cubist organization both pulls the reader into the suspenseful real-time of the plot and bonds the reader to the characters’ psyches. We go through the events with the personalities, sometimes rooting them on, sometimes booing them down, and often unsure.

Though the story is told through a stream of consciousness mishmash, the words jump off the page in a highly accessible and often suspenseful organization. Fragmentation of sections, paragraphs, and sentences contrasts with the evenly forward-moving plotline to offer the reader a jolting tour through a straightforward plot. The narration and the plot keep the reader on their feet as they attack from peculiarly intertwined angles. It is at once a clean-cut exposition of a dirty city and a warped vivisection of a straightforward plot.

The language has a punch – instructed by a silent interviewer to speak openly and freely, the characters speak in their true, uninhibited voices, tones, and moods. I find myself in the shower, imitating the personalities. Their voices are so pristinely fascinating and well-drawn that I simply want to be them – even the questionable ones (in fact, especially the questionable ones). Listen to the opening lines of a section told by Jean “Zazz” Zazzinsky:
“Yo. I’m fine. No, no, I’m not fine. You think I’m lucky he didn’t kill me? Excuse me for not being grateful. Excuse me for not giving the guy a present.”
Cynics may chide Lepie for resorting to New York spunk as a gimmick, but if anything, many of Back Lotus’s personalities come to life through their pathetic qualities – their evasion of responsibility, their lamentation yet inaction, and so on. The novel may be oddly paranoid and cynical, but it is real.

As an Egyptian American Jew and a social activist, I found the ethnic, racial, and gender diversity of the book quite refreshing. Lepie does not simply place the Italian, African American, and lesbian characters in the book, nor does she tokenize them – instead of relying on stereotypes to build these haunted and haunting characters, Lepie shapes their personalities in response to the institutions that seek to suppress them. They mix in a world that operates on its own terms of madness, genius, and a general sense of what one may call, ‘Too many f***ed-up things going on at the same time.’ The world of New Parise is fast-paced and multi-sided, like a revolving trapezoid.

Black Lotus, traditional and unconventional in the right respective places, catches the reader by surprise with a fresh vision of a dark genre.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 15, 2014 – Finished Reading
June 26, 2014 – Shelved

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