A post-Katrina melange of short stories, cultural history and recipes.
Wilder (Ghost of a Chance, 2005) transmutes his evident love of New Orleans, especially its food, into a collection of ten stories. Interspersed are recipes for regional specialties such as red beans and rice, which, relying on bouillon cubes and lacking smoked sausage or pickled pork, sounds inauthentic. The recipe for Vietnamese Jambalaya, with its curious mix of ingredients, sounds more promising. As a â€œlagniappe,” Wilder includes mini-essays and factoids on the history and culture of New Orleans, including the founding of the city, the history of the Cajuns and the practice of voodoo. Most of the fictional pieces, which constitute the bulk of the text, are narrated by Wyatt Thomas, a private investigator whose only qualifications for his job appear to be an ear for gossip and an affinity for seedy watering holes where the patrons chug Dixie beer and knock back oyster shooters. The true hero of the volume is New Orleans, hyped as â€œthe most unique city in the United States, and perhaps the world,” where the scents are always piquant and the coffee always chicory-laced. For the most part, the short stories end happily, with broadly drawn characters in predicaments typically born of domestic strife. The final stories, â€œDiamonds in the Night” and â€œA Talk with Henry”–neither is narrated by Wyatt–rise above the rest for their narrative economy and deeper psychology. As with the others, the setting dominates, with its steamy nights, the cloying scent of bougainvillea and the tomcats slinking through the alleys.
Uneven literary gumbo, with some ingredients more tasty than others.