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A Memoir of Floods, Fires, Parades, and Plywood

by Cheryl Wagner

Pub Date: May 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8065-3103-8
Publisher: Citadel/Kensington

Print and public-radio journalist Wagner describes rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

Viewing the devastation from afar as evacuees, the author and her boyfriend Jake decided to return to New Orleans and rebuild their flooded home—while trying not to think about the months they had spent remodeling it not long before the storm. Accompanied by two loyal basset hounds, Clo and Buster, they undertook the immense task of gutting and repairing hazardous, rotted rooms, trying to keep the mold spores and dust from taking over. Wagner’s matter-of-fact descriptions of post-flood conditions will stir the reader’s sympathy and horror, but her memoir is also surprisingly, albeit grimly funny as she chronicles her dogged efforts to stay sane and to help bring back to life what she loved about New Orleans. As the months passed, conditions in her neighborhood worsened, and tragedies began to pile up around her and Jake. The temptation to give up for an easier life in any number of other places was great, but the plucky pair persevered, celebrating the city’s baby steps forward with the enthusiasm of citizens who have found their home and will stick by it through the toughest of times. Wagner’s quotidian pacing makes for a slow start, but once she and Jake “sneak back to our own house” (the city was still under martial law), her tale of woe and hard-won resurrection gathers force. Despite Kafkaesque experiences with the infamous bureaucratic mess that threatened to undo New Orleans once and for all, the couple held on to their optimism for the city and their little piece of it. Wagner captures the nostalgia, the heartbreak and the friendships spawned in Katrina’s turbulent aftermath with raw emotional honesty free of sentimentality.

Unflinching, humorous and heartfelt.