Meet the Lamentsthe affably dysfunctional globetrotting family at the center of George Hagens exuberant debut novel.
Howard is an engineer who dreams of irrigating the Sahara and lives by the motto "Laments move!" His wife Julia is a fiery spirit who must balance her husbands oddly peripatetic nature with unexpected aspirations of her own. And Will is the "waif with a paper-thin heart" who is given to Howard and Julia in return for their own child who has been lost in a bizarre maternity ward mishap. As Will makes his way from infancy to manhood in a family that careens from continent to continent, one wonders where the Laments will ever belong.
In Bahrain, Howard takes a job with an oil company and young Will makes his first friend. But in short order he is wrenched off to another land, his mothers complicated friendship with the American siren Trixie Howitzer causing the family to bolt. In Northern Rhodesia, during its last days as a white colony, the twin enfants terribles Marcus and Julius are born, and Will falls for the gardeners daughter, a girl so vain that she admires her image in the lid of a biscuit tin. But soon the familys life is upturned again, this time by their neighbor Major Buck Quinn, with his suburban tirades against black self-rule. Envisioning a more civilized life on "the sceptered isle," the Laments board an ocean liner bound for England. Alas, poor Will is greeted by the tribal ferocity of his schoolmates and a society fixated on the Blitz. No sooner has he succumbed to British pop culture in the guise of mop-top Sally Byrd and her stacks of 45s, than the Laments uproot themselves once again, and its off to New Jersey, where life deals crisis and opportunity in equal measure.
Undeniably eccentric, the Laments are also universal. Every family moves on in life. Children grow up, things are left behind; there is always something to lament. Through the Laments restlessness, responses to adversity, and especially their unwieldy love for one another, George Hagen gives us a portrait of every family that is funny, tragic, and improbably true.
Perhaps the Lament baby knew that his parents couldnt name him. Moments after birth he displayed a cryptic smile, an ear-to-ear gape at the fuss displayed over his hospital crib as relatives argued over his Christian name. His mother, Julia Lament, particularly felt the burden. A childs name is his portal to the world. It had to be right.
"If people were named at the end of their lives, we wouldnt have mistakes like selfish children named Charity, and timid ones named Leo!" she declared.
Julias namesake was a monstrous chieftain of a great-grandfather named Julius, a surly copper magnate of Johannesburg, South Africa, married three times, arrested for slowly poisoning his last wife through nightly glasses of milk dosed with arsenic. Even after his incarceration, the Clare family insisted on naming their children after him in a desperate attempt to win his favor and thereby keep the copper mines in the family. Hence: four Julias, two...
George Hagen was born in 1958 in Harare, Zimbabwe, and later moved to Northern Rhodesia, the London suburbs, and New Jersey. He studied film at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and spent several years in Los Angeles as a screenwriter. He lives in New York City with his wife and three children. He says that The Laments was inspired by his own childhood.
Interesting Link: A short video clip of George Hagen discussing his book.
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