A New Orleans family is shattered and scattered by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
“Grief was infinite, though, wasn’t it,” thinks one of the characters midway through this powerful, important novel, “something like love that, divided, did not diminish.” Babst’s debut tracks the experiences of five family members from the pre-Katrina evacuation of the city through late November 2005, 93 days after landfall. Dr. Tess Eshleman is a psychiatrist, an Uptown blue blood married to Joe Boisdoré, a Creole sculptor descended from freed slaves whose work has made it as far as the Guggenheim; the couple raised their two mixed-race daughters in a historic house on the Esplanade. By the time the hurricane drops a magnolia tree through the roof of that home, Tess and Joe have evacuated to Houston, taking with them Joe’s father, who suffers from advanced Lewy body dementia and was in an institution until it shut down for the storm. Their daughter Cora, who struggles with mental illness and depression, refused to leave with the family, then cannot be found when they return. By the time their other daughter, Del, arrives from New York City in October, the pressures of the storm have driven Tess and Joe to separate—and though Cora has been found, drinking tea with an elderly friend of the family in the ruins of her garden, she is catatonic. Much of the plot is devoted to unpacking exactly what happened to her during the storm and the flood. This novel is New Orleans to the bone, an authentic, detailed picture of the physical and emotional geography of the city, before, during, and after the tragedy, its social strata, its racial complications, the zillion cultural details that define its character: the parrots in the palm trees, the pork in the green beans, the vein in the shrimp, “the goddamned tacky way he flew his Rex flag out of season.”
Deeply felt and beautifully written; a major addition to the literature of Katrina.