Meet four generations of the Duvalier family, for whom sugar cane is both a blessing and a curse. From patriarch Carter, who perishes before the novel begins - after being hit in the head by an exploding manhole cover - and his indomitable holy-roller wife Lily, to their dysfunctional sons Winston and Steven, and their equally screwed-up grandchildren, the Duvaliers, both dead and alive, would do anything to keep their secrets hidden.
As their world is blown apart by the winds of Katrina, and consumed by greed and lust - and with Afterworld exercising an unearthly control over them all - their story creates a novel of unimaginable beauty, dark humour and terrible tragedy.
Afterworld is Lois Walden's second novel and is published in the UK by Arcadia on 22 September 2013.
This is certainly one of the most original novels that I have ever read. It's a mash-up of sex, laughter, drink and debauchery. A story told in many layers by many generations. Each quirky voice is hugely individual and more than a little bit eccentric.
The reader is led through Louisiana, and along the way many secrets are uncovered and a corrupt world is exposed.
This is a story full of magic, it's incredibly clever - almost a little too clever for me and I find it quite difficult to write a review that does any justice to the quite incredible writing. I'd really recommend that readers go out and read it for themselves. Then, please, let me know what you think!
My thanks to Colin from www.bookshaped.com who sent my copy for review.
Lois Walden is a writer, performer, lyricist, teaching artist, and founder of the star-studded gospel group The Sisters of Glory. In 2010 Arcadia published her strong debut novel One More Stop. Her latest is a hugely imaginative tour of Louisiana and its corrupt beauty, and seductive secrets along with a vision that carries through life, death, and back again. Most recently, she has been commissioned to write the Buddhist opera, Mila and is at work on her third novel.
Find out more about Lois and her work at www.loiswalden.com
Questions & Answers with Lois Walden, Author of Afterworld
I started writing a book of erotic short stories each of which was about how we use sex to control our lives, transcend our pain and hold power over others: the misuse of sexual energy, at which I am an expert! After quite some time, I pulled these stories out of the drawer, took a good look at this one in particular and decided it should be a novel. It is not just a book about sex; though there is quite a bit of sex in it... and sex is never just. Never.
Did writing Afterworld change your outlook in any way?
It's left me questioning everything I ever thought and believed. I am now, after all my searching, a romantic existentialist, which is an oxymoron: I only exist in the now and my heart is always breaking.
Though I am hopelessly questing for some mystical outcome – because of things that I have practiced and studied in my past – I know at this moment that there is no outcome. As Kenny Loggins wrote, "This is It." My faith in mankind and humanity with its group consciousness has been torn asunder. Life is about the individual. The greatest way to live a life or make a difference is to live one's life to its fullest. I can only make change by being more and more who I am without external rules. And who I am, hopefully, changes every second I am.
What do you hope that readers take away when they finish Afterworld?
I leave that up to the reader. I hope they have a fabulous ride, that they question their own beliefs. That
“pervert”, “drunk”, “gay”, “straight”, “death”, and “life”, are just labels to give man his identity. None of
these things is for us to judge.
Which writers do you most admire?
William Faulkner and Philip Roth. Philip Roth because his books tap into the psyche of my genetic makeup and Faulkner because I feel as though I've lived somewhere in the south and as if I were in some of his characters’ lives but was unseen. With his writing you really have to pay attention. Sound and the Fury and American Pastoral are my favorites. I read an enormous amount of non fiction; Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi and Hazrat Inayat Khan's, The Music of Life are two of my favorites. And let's not forget Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and Patti Smith’s Just Kids.
Both your novels explore LGBT themes from different angles. What was different about writing One More Stop compared to Afterworld?
One More Stop was an incredibly personal book that tapped into my life on the road as a teacher in classrooms filled with tormented teens all over America. It also tapped into my relationship with my mother, who committed suicide many years ago. It gave me the opportunity to heal that particularly difficult mother daughter relationship. After all, when someone takes their life you tend to blame yourself for their death, even if it has nothing to do with you. Afterworld truly expresses the notion that at all times there is something in play between the seen and unseen. We do not have the slightest idea about the hows and whys of what we do or do not become. We make this shit up to survive.
For me, LGBT, gay or straight is all sexuality. How we deal with what we're dealt is what makes us genuine. I love women. I love men's bodies, but emotionally I am definitely gay. You can't hide behind any label. Look at what labels did to people like Oscar Wilde. I am glad I am alive at this time, and not that time. You have to claim your sexuality and not let it shame you.
What fascinates you about sex?
The lack of it, the quest for it, the power of it, the remembrances of it, the hopes for the future of it, the complete all encompassing need and desire for it, the manifestation of life through it. Whether you are gay, straight, just love it, because sex is great, fun. As far as I'm concerned, the libido is where it's at.
The other parts of us are so cluttered with moral morass. If you have completely lost touch with at least some shred of your libido, you might just as well die, or pray for an orgasm.
What is your obsession with death?
Some days the thought of it scares the shit out of me and yet, I look forward to it. It's a conundrum, and I like the fact that it has my brain twisted at all times. Probably what I write will always have some death involved. Because there always is some death involved. Sondheim says "Every Day a Little Death." People always try to put a rational spin on why death comes, but the truth is we don't have a clue.
Who or what influences you in your day to day, supports you in how you live, how you work, how you
play, how you see and live in the world?
Margot, my partner, supports me in more ways than I care to mention. She has taught me about will, hard work, and the way of the warrior. I tend to be passive. I mean like staring at bees sucking on clover. I can do that for hours, and have. I have walked away from many opportunities in my career because they required will, and work. I just walked, started another chapter, called it my way of dealing and left the baggage behind me. There was always the same baggage wherever I went, so now I stick to things, even if it drives me crazy.
Where do you write?
Anywhere. It's not that I write: I think and think, take notes, an idea goes into this part of my brain and I turn it around – it goes on for weeks and months – and I know how it begins and ends and I know the arc and the story... and then I sit down and fill it in. Sometimes I'm in a car and I have to pull off to the side of the road and write something. When I'm in the midst of writing I don't write every day – I wish I did – but because I do many other creative and foolish things, I can't. I'm not looking forward to sitting down to the next book. Afterworld challenged everything I believed in and I'm not anxious to be exposed again, but I will and I have begun. This next book is a very emotional novel.
How do you choose your subjects?
They choose me. People I meet, things that happen. The synchronicity of certain experiences and then all of a sudden seeing a panoply of a unique world. Sometimes they percolate for years.
What would I like to be when I grow up?
I'd like to be fully present.