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December 11, 2020

A Tragic Story Set During the 90s AIDS Epidemic: LAZARUS RISING

by MK French


In 1992 New York City, Dempsey Coates offered firemen a place to stay as they battled a blazing fire on a cold winter night. Johnny Donegan fell in love with her and is determined to make a life together with her despite her HIV positive status. The unexpected good luck that might make it possible comes between them in a very tragic way.
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Lazarus Rising
December 2020; Delphinium; 978-1883285999
ebook, print (224 pages); medical fiction
Joseph Caldwell is 92, and an acclaimed playwright and novelist that lives in New York City. There's definitely a lived-in sense for the locations within the city, so that we're walking along with Dempsey and Johnny, and we feel the cold or the sun or the distances as they walk in the neighborhoods. Their struggles feel real, as they're everyday people living in a city known to be expensive in monetary cost as well as spiritual. 

Big cities can feel isolating so that even though there are millions of people, it's still hard to make a connection or feel a sense of worth. Dempsey at first defines herself by her illness, knowing she's dying and she has only herself to blame. She fell into drugs and let random people use her sexually while high, lost her baby at six months old, and carries her guilt like a shield even though the pregnancy caused her to quit cold turkey. Johnny loved her anyway and cared for her at her worst. None of her past mattered, and he was willing to fight the Catholic Church to get a consecrated marriage with her as proof of his love.

I don't want to give away the good luck or the ending, which is definitely tragic. I understand Dempsey's reaction to the miracle that fell in her lap: "Why me? Why am I worthy and not all these others?" Guilt still surrounds her and still prevents her from truly connecting with others. Johnny would do anything to be with her and to give his life meaning in context to hers. I'm reminded most of The Gift of the Magi, and the ending is more bitter than sweet. I'm not sure I like this story, because despite knowing there is a tragedy, I was still hoping for something different to happen. There were plenty of tragedies in the AIDS epidemic of the '90s, and this is one of them.

Buy Lazarus Rising at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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