Cursed lives revived and cleansed by a 1906 New Orleans flood.
Maistros’ characters represent the dregs of the old New Orleans underclass, Creoles of mixed-race heritage. In 1891, the habitués of a local gin joint attend the exorcism of a djab, or voodoo demon, possessing Dominick, infant son of Antonio, who has just been lynched by an anti-immigrant mob. This demon was originally unleashed in 1853, when Malvina, a voodoo priestess, summoned it to wreak revenge on Marcus Nobody Special, a gravedigger who had impregnated and abandoned her niece Maria. Noonday Morningstar, a widowed preacher, defies divine warnings to preside over the exorcism, and pays with his life. Also present is Doctor Jack, a sawbones and abortionist, and nine-year-old Typhus (Noonday’s children are all named after diseases), whose heart is gripped by his father’s ghostly hand. Dominick grows into trickster and troublemaker Jim Jam Jump, spelling trouble for the surviving Morningstars, including his partner-in-crime Dropsy. The tangled fortunes of Noonday’s progeny are the closest thing this novel has to a unifying device. Malaria gives up singing ambitions to mother her orphaned siblings. Diphtheria has clawed her way up from “the cribs,” low-rent fleshpots, to the relative luxe of the city’s best bordello. Her son West, whose neglectful father Buddy becomes the first jazz cornet man, is obsessed with buttons. Diphtheria elected not to abort him with Doctor Jack’s toxic tea. Typhus, Doctor Jack’s assistant, “rebirths” aborted fetuses by reshaping them into Mississippi catfishes. Doctor Jack urges Typhus, now a man forever trapped in a nine-year-old’s body, to concentrate his unmet romantic yearnings on the photograph of a mysterious beauty. Marcus fishes tirelessly, awaiting an encounter with one special catfish, his lost son. The spirit realm, which in Maistros’ world resides in water, intrudes upon the living with plenty of irreverent and poignant commentary. As the great flood approaches, the Morningstar body count mounts, and self-effacing Malaria will be the family’s last hope.
Riotous, undisciplined and disjointed, yet mesmerizing.