“Lazarus Rising: A Novel” by Joseph Caldwell— Remembering AIDS

Caldwell, Joseph. “Lazarus Rising: A Novel”, Delphinium Books, 2020.

Remembering AIDS

Amos Lassen

Beginning on Staten Island in the 1980s when AIDS was still a horrible epidemic and death occurred every day Joseph Caldwell in “Lazarus Rising” introduces us to artist Dempsey Coates as she is on the way home and comes upon an intense fire. She offers several of the fireman who were fighting the inferno a place where they can relax and get warm after battling the blaze. Johnny Donegan is one of the fire fighters and belong long, the two fall madly in love with her and makes it his aim to create a life with Dempsey. However, after a few months of dating, they go their separate ways.

The two meet again in 1992 after Dempsey has been through a period of drug addiction and now has AIDS. She received quite a large amount of money through an inheritance  and this has allowed her to continue working on a project she has been pursuing— a painting of Lazarus. She asks Johnny to pose for her, their romance is rekindled and they soon become engaged. They both understand that they must practice safe sex but this in conflict with Johnny’s Catholicism. The church will not bless their  planned marriage because of this but it also leads to a friendship with Father Dunphy. As Johnny prays for Dempsey to be cured, events happen that are inexplainable and neither the priest or Dempsey’s doctor can understand what has happened.

We are taken back to a terrible time in history when all seemed dark much like what we are going through today with the Covid-9 pandemic; a time when we cannot understand or explain what is happening. More than just a novel, “Lazarus Rising” is a parable of faith and commitment coming to us in gorgeous prose and that allows us to be reminded that hope is never not an option.

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