A review of Upstaged by Aaron Paul Lazar

The interaction of the student performers and stagehands is brilliantly described and there is shrewd observation in the treatment of the sexual predator Armand Lugio, the witchy stage-mother Agnes Bigelow and the gay youngster Nelson Santos who explores the world of his sexuality, a prey to himself and a victim of the insensitive and intolerant. There is no preachiness in Lazar but there is a sane treatment of difficult issues that is refreshing.

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Upstaged
by Aaron Paul Lazar
PublishAmerica
2005, ISBN 1-4137-7258-7, $21.95, 267 pages

Lazar has written a series of books that concern themselves with the adventures of Gus LeGarde. His style is plain but flexible, correct without being stuffy. But it is in the exercise of his imagination and in the bond that holds Gus’s extended family together that Lazar excels. Upstaged is the second book. The first, Double Forté, had faults, the greatest being the need to perform expository chores that are no longer needed and Upstaged benefits greatly from the freedom thus acquired. This is the second book of the series but several others are in various stages of preparation.

Gus LeGarde is a college professor in a semi-mythical upstate New York town. For years he has mourned the death of Elsbeth his first wife. In Double Forté he meets Camille Coté and they fall in love. In Upstage they are engaged. Gus is a talented musician as well as a teacher of music and he and Camille work together on the production of a musical performed by local students. The musical was an early composition of his and it has for him emotional ramifications that enlighten us about his character and life, which has been a bittersweet medley of misfortunes and treasured relationships.

His parents are dead but the Stones, family friends, have struggled to supply their place. Siegfried, the twin brother of his wife, disabled by an accident and reduced in mental acuity as a result, is a man of true splendor – simple, true and fearless. Freddie, Gus’s daughter, married a cad but is now free of him and lives with her father. Also intimates of the family are two police officers, Joe Russell and Adam Knapp, Madelaine Coté, Gus’s secretary and Colette’s mother, and Johnny, Freddie’s toddler son. The housekeeper Adelaide completes a group united by affection.

Out of this group with its concerns – Freddie, for example, is pregnant – and the circumstances surrounding the production of the musical, Lazar constructs an involved tale in which the occurrences within the extended family and the mysterious events that surround the musical form contrasting parts of great variety.

The rehearsals are first plagued with what look to be pranks but these grow graver and more menacing. There is a murder and the recognition that the murderer is a psychopath. As in Double Forté, it would seem that in Lazar’s mind only the mad are bad.

The interaction of the student performers and stagehands is brilliantly described and there is shrewd observation in the treatment of the sexual predator Armand Lugio, the witchy stage-mother Agnes Bigelow and the gay youngster Nelson Santos who explores the world of his sexuality, a prey to himself and a victim of the insensitive and intolerant. There is no preachiness in Lazar but there is a sane treatment of difficult issues that is refreshing.

In a world where there are many more books than are worth the perusal, a writer like Lazar is a valuable acquisition and one that all readers of entertainments should value. His firm belief in the curative value of family and food is convincing and rests on a devotion to gardening. The passion for the garden is the passion for the alien forms that grow therein. It is for many of us what the frontier was for our ancestors. Lazar convincingly urges that not space but the backyard is our final frontier.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His book Joyce Country, a guide to persons and places, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places

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