MARQUIS AT BAY by Albert Belisle Davis


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Davis's second novel (Leechtime, 1989) is another Faulknerian effort, convoluted and tortured, that again uses mock-oral history to tell the story of small-time intrigue--this time in a bayou town southwest of New Orleans. An outcast attorney from an old New Orleans family tries to find redemption amid characters who are by turns grotesque and Rabelaisian. James Marquis, the lawyer, comes to the bayou town and, representing indigents, meets Lineman, a black determined to succeed at whatever the cost, and Zeema, a local singer. Marquis gets drawn into the town's best-kept secret: Lineman's father, years ago doing some underhanded work for Roussell, the town's powerbroker, caused a baby to be killed, and Roussell secretly replaced the baby with an adoption. Forever after, Lineman, unscrupulous, has had leverage on Roussell. (Much of this narrative is pieced together after the fact by Molly, Marquis's wife, mostly from tapes her husband recorded.) Roussell's idea to import Zulu, a Mardi Gras club and celebration, to the bayou town serves as catalyst for much of the byzantine plotting that follows. That plotting involves elements from the Chronicles, a bizarre series of published histories of the Marquis family; the civil-rights movement; and a conversation with Albert Einstein. Roussell and Lineman reach an understanding, divide the town into separate ""kingdoms,"" and the book finally becomes mainly a series of transcriptions of interviews. Davis creates a unique world here, not easily penetrable but not like any other, either, and the reader is willing to forgive some murkiness and loose ends in return for originality: ""Just as in sleep [Marquis writes to Molly], one finds that any nightmare worth its name is in control throughout...."" Hard going, but the odd intricate contours of Davis's southern Louisiana world can be found nowhere else.

Pub Date: May 8th, 1992
Page count: 386pp
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ. Press