There’s a fascinating story here, but one that’s less about Katrina, or even New Orleans, than about the author’s attempts to understand himself and his ambitions.
Wolf begins with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, with the author writing from East Hampton, N.Y., filled with worry about “the city I’d left forty-two years before, had returned to so often, and still called home.” He thus decided to write this memoir in order “to preserve what I can, and understand what I have not.” As a sixth-generation member of a prominent New Orleans family, Wolf left the city to earn his doctorate in the history of art and architecture and to establish himself as an authority on urban planning. But he had also felt marginalized in a city where Jews were excluded from social clubs and Mardi Gras rituals and distanced from his parents, who seemed little interested in him. After a friend called him “an island,” he writes that “it wasn’t until years later that I realized he’d immediately seen how I was rather isolated from my parents, how I shriveled into myself, shrinking for need of the love and care that I felt I rarely got from them, no matter how hard I tried to be the good son.” Wolf offers scrumptious accounts of dining at Galatoire’s and Mosca’s (where menus were mainly for outsiders and tourists), but he more often focuses on himself as a bright but emotionally stunted young man as he separated himself from New Orleans, the family business and a series of romantic relationships for which he was emotionally ill-equipped. By the end of the memoir, having skipped over decades, even his failed 18-year marriage gets mentioned only in passing. Then the book concludes, as it began, with a few pages about the flood.
As interesting for what it doesn’t say (and the way it doesn’t say it) as for what it does.