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Fields of Asphodel Fields of Asphodel

Adventures in the afterworld.
Following the protagonist's death, described in lamentable detail in the author's first novel, Lee Pefley, a 73-year-old reactionary romantic, is subjected to the unpleasantness of a purgatory-like place where he might, or might not, atone for his transgressions while on earth.

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Come morning and dawn, Lee leapt up much refreshed and proceeded to shake the needles out of his hair. Dreams of happiness had regaled him all night even if he could not now remember what they were. Again he yawned and stretched and was in process of reciting out loud certain pieces of conversation from the more notable of those dreams when, suddenly, he recoiled in huge astonishment to find that yet another old man had bedded down next to him at some moment during the foregoing black night and now was grinning up toothlessly while waiting for Lee to continue with the recitation.

Quickly Lee gathered his possessions and, using for that purpose his yard-square kerchief of fine silk, made a hasty bundle and hung it from his stick. All his worldly goods, his cash and coins (one of them from Canada), his book of matches and his wee pen knife, all of it together added up to such inconsiderable luggage that no matter how much he looked at it from various angles he still wanted to cry. The other man, meantime, had gotten into a sitting position and was fighting valiantly to rise.

"Now you take a person like me," he said. "I consider a person like you to be lucky, what with all them things you got there. In that there little pouch, I mean. You looking for a partner?"

"No, no," said Lee, "not really, no. No, actually I…" (He had gone off to finish urinating and was striving to hurry the process.) "But thanks all the same."

"Shit, I could carry all that stuff for you, and shit, why you wouldn't have to carry nothing." And then, in a somewhat darker voice: "They won't take that Canadian penny. Nobody will."

Lee hurried. The "sun," more dead than alive, had only just that moment snapped the last thread still holding it to the horizon and, lifting a few centimeters, had finally begun to throb under its own power. Lee looked for, and found, a small clutter of dark clouds rushing up too late to forestall dawn from taking place. Always it was the same—he could see so much more clearly at this time, and farther, than by night, and what he mostly saw was a sight that any historian could envy—a walled village (the gate was open) with hens and children running in and out. Bending nearer, he could also see an adamant cock strutting dictatorially atop the gable of one of the more prosperous-looking cottages.



Tito Perdue's first published novel, Lee, follows one Leland Pefley, a septuagenarian misanthrope disgusted with the decadence of modern times, on his return to his native Alabama. With a head full of literature (12,000 volumes, by his count), a self-bestowed "Dr." before his name and a heavy cane, he wanders through his hometown, his only companion the recurring specter of his dead wife, Judy. Over the course of the book, he beats several people with his cane, urinates through a car window and burns down a house. In the end, we find him wandering in the woods on a cold night, stripping off his clothes and, presumably, dying of exposure.

It is a sordid tale. It is also a compact, virtuoso performance, singular in its depiction of one of the more pretentious, grandiloquent protagonists gracing the pages of American fiction ... Leland Pefley has been compared to Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," but it might be more apt to consider him a sort of reverse-polarity Don Quixote, as consumed by his delusions and romantic notions as his Spanish forebear, but with a decidedly different approach to life: Whereas Quixote sees a bygone age everywhere and gets beaten up for it, Lee sees a bygone age nowhere and beats up others for it.

Fields of Asphodel picks up where Lee left off. Freshly deceased, Lee awakens in the woods in an anti-world not unlike the one he's just departed. He has a heavy stick, two pairs of glasses, good shoes, a suit and a Canadian coin the size of a pie. "I died," he says, "I'm quite sure that I did ... and so then why, pray, am I still producing thoughts, hm, why?" Good question…

The landscape moves gradually toward the modern age, but for the most part the narrative proceeds by a kind of dream-logic, with repeating elements (the moon, restaurants, queues, lizards, cabbage) pervading a general confusion, brilliantly depicted by Perdue. Lee stumbles through barren settings, warehouses, barns and offices. He witnesses variations of "post-mortem career[s]," including, cleverly, two firing squads executing each other in an endless loop.

Eventually, signs indicate that Lee's reckoning is near. He becomes subject to a sort of low-grade comeuppance. A bureaucrat examines his file and declares: "Says that you have always behaved in your own self-interest, but have always expected everybody else to behave from principle. Hey, that doesn't sound good." And when he finally has the opportunity to meet his beloved ancient Greeks, he is forced to conclude that "by no means was this that 'small world of fine people' for which he had been yearning all his life."

… In the end, Lee hardly achieves "that toleration said to be the final result of wisdom," but he does get a glimpse of a tailor-made paradise, assembled for him by a god figure in the form of a candy store confectioner.

And what of moral reckoning? In an utterly charming and brilliantly comic penultimate scene, the god figure praises Lee for his temerity, declaring it a rare quality. "I didn't know You'd like it so much," says Lee. "You're not supposed to know," says the god figure. "That's why it's temerity."
   —Antoine Wilson, L.A. Times

We are first introduced to Leland Pefley—the crotchety, perpetually dissatisfied protagonist of Tito Perdue's debut novel Lee in 1991—in his final days on earth ... in many ways, Lee feels like a mere stepping stone to help us arrive at Perdue's powerful sequel, Fields of Asphodel. We return to find Lee exactly where we left him in the previous book—freshly dead in a dark woods at night... Pefley continues his wandering, purgatorial quest, yet this time it is in the realm of the dead. The book's title refers to this realm. According to the classical Greeks, it is a place where indifferent souls wind up.

Yet Leland Pefley is far from indifferent himself. A man with convictions, with vim, surely there is a heaven or hell reserved for Pefley. But perhaps this speaks to Perdue's greater point: that morality is a judgment call, and we—with all our experience and wisdom—are not qualified to do the judging.

Perdue's books are thoughtful and gutsy, and they offer cautions which couldn't be louder if Leland dangled an albatross from his neck. They are books worth the salvage. They are not books to be lapsed.
   —B.J. Hollars/ Alabama Writer's Forum—First Draft

Publisher: Overlook Press
ISBN-10: 1585678716
ISBN-13: 9781585678716