THE RITZ OF THE BAYOU by Nancy Lemann

THE RITZ OF THE BAYOU

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Lemann (Lives of the Saints, 1985) overplays the wilting flower, Blanche DuBois routine in this highly impressionistic, extremely self-absorbed account of the corruption trials of Louisiana's colorful Governor Edwin Edwards. Told in a series of snapshots and snippets, separated by dots, Lemann's slim collection of anecdotes fails to exploit some inherently great material--a slice of recent history in which a confederacy of dunces encounters all the king's men. The charismatic Governor, with his Cajun twang and irrepressible sense of humor, helps turn a lengthy trial and retrial (1985-86) into a referendum on his womanizing, gambling, and cronyish ways. Unsuccessfully prosecuted for racketeering, fraud, and bribery, the Governor (""what you would call a card"") and his seven codefendants--comedians all--are served by an equally jovial, and intensely histrionic, defense team, which includes the ""swift and graceful"" Camille Gravel, the author's ""hero."" Therein lies the problem: this overly coy ""girl reporter"" spends much time recording her random observations and hinting at great personal ""problems""--none of which can compete with the goofy history of living in the shadow of the Kingfish and the even loopier Earl Long. By giving her fellow observers cutesy names (""the courtroom philosopher,"" ""the courtroom existentialist,"" and so on) she hopes to show how ""eccentric"" they all are down home in New Orleans, ""a town filled with jazz-crazed bars."" Dutifully recording every compliment on her looks, Lemann seems bored with the facts. Lemann's limited vocabulary--everything's ""smoldering"" or ""sweltering""--and her tiresome narrative gimmicks--capitalization for emphasis and deliberate repetitions--make for a very weak book.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf