The neighborhoods and nightlife of New Orleans provide vivid details in these stories of a city unlike any other.
Though Hurricane Katrina provides a line of demarcation in this collection, native son Nolan (Higher Ground, 2011, etc.) knows that folks have been leaving the city and lamenting the disappearance of its past (or else wallowing in it) since well before the climactic disaster. “[I]t’s a great place to be from. And a great place to come back to, once in a while,” explains the protagonist of “Le Vie En Rose Construction Co.,” one of the older “selected” stories and perhaps the best here. He continues, “The creative possibilities here seemed endless. And so did the destructive.” The destructive dominates the creative in these stories, though they are slapstick as often as tragic (and sometimes both, in a way specific to the city). Though the subtitle isn’t as specific as it could be, the book has two sections: The first offers 10 new stories followed by 10 taken from Perpetual Care (2008). Black or white, gay or straight, male or female, young or (often) old, the characters exist in what the author sees as a world unto itself, one that those who leave can never really escape and those who return have trouble recognizing as home. In “Hard Freeze,” a virtuoso pianist with a French mother and an African-American father returns to the city to make peace with his late father and discovers deep roots he never knew he had: “Here in New Orleans, with its French history and African blood lines, where he had long dreamed he would melt in like chocolate, he felt particularly foreign,” though he later realizes how much of the city is within him. There are stories of sexual predators and innocent prey, of rich fathers and the sons who have disappointed them, of elderly residents who have seen their city disappear and who often become lost in memories.
The author plainly knows and loves his city well and deserves a readership beyond his regional renown.