Along with the levees of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina breaks open two families of women, revealing—and creating—unexpected ties of the heart.
Author of the memoir When I Was Elena (2006), Urbani sets her debut novel in the days during and after one of America’s most devastating storms. Tracing the experiences of two smart, tough young women, Rose and Rosy, she lays down threads that knot their histories together. Each young woman is fatherless, each living with a difficult mother who clings to a romantic past while trying to prepare her daughter for the challenges of a female adulthood. Thrown into the maelstrom of Katrina and its aftermath, each sees her life change completely overnight, forcing her to face herself and the past that shaped her. Urbani boldly sets her story among some of the most disturbing events of that time, sensitively evoking the desperation of the survivors of the hurricane and its mishandled aftershocks. To her great credit, she never shies away from the realities of poverty, race, and racism, nor does she fail to give people, both white and black, individual characters, unique histories, and often warm hearts. This, along with Urbani’s loving yet critical portrait of the American South, is one of the book’s strengths. There are also some fine descriptions, especially of the experience of the flood—“The howling of the dogs had stopped by the second day.” But the plot develops too slowly, and there are exaggerations that undermine the story, such as a young woman eating six pieces of pie at once or people who do things for hours when much less would have been more believable. The author too often explains herself when the information the reader needs is already in the story.
Though the novel is occasionally unconvincing, its compassionate heart and clear eyes will surely touch some readers.