FAT TUESDAY by R. Wright Campbell


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Robert, a middle-aged N.Y. journalist, goes to New Orleans in 1916 to look for his runaway prostitute/daughter--and promptly finds himself in a lurid, pretentious swirl of sexual adventures, kinky involvements, and repetitious musings about love/lust and innocence/evil. In famed Storyville, New Orleans' red-light district, narrator Robert--a verbose but vacant character throughout--visits the brothels, immediately forming an attachment with famously frigid Josephine. . . who later tries celibacy for 30 days, sharing an apartment with a priest as a mutual test of will-power. (Josephine comes to love the priest but finds orgasm on the sly with Robert.) He also has sadistic sex, sex with well-born feminist Irene, and sex with Irene's niece BarbÉ (including some mÉnage à trois action with Josephine). He visits a black musicians' jamboree, a voodoo rite, an opium den, a sadistic (perhaps even fatal) sex-show. He meets Storyville's ruthless flesh-peddlers, a terminally ill doctor (who gets miraculous sex-treatment from a voodoo queen), and the ""omnisexual"" Julien--a decadent dandy whose current tastes are homosexual. He intermittently sleuths around for his daughter--who may have died in one of those sex-shows. . . or might be a nun now. He unearths some incest/mutilation secrets. And he even finds time to betray muckraker Ida Tarbell, one of a few historical figures who make cameo appearances here. But Robert's journey through the New Orleans world of sensuality and violence--with a Mardi Gras finale--has no narrative or psychological shape: it soon becomes a mere string of pseudo-voluptuous setpieces, tiresome instead of shocking or affecting. And the murky potpourri of themes isn't much illuminated by Robert's relentless rhetoric--about sin, paranoia, ""angst,"" religion, morality, violence, and death: ""I was a mirror that allowed some images to pass unimpeded into eternity while others were reflected in such sharp detail that they stopped the heart at the sight of one's own true face."" Sporadically atmospheric in its recreations of period exotica; overblown and annoying in its attempt to pass off a garish, near-pornographic side-show as something profound.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1982
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields Houghton Mifflin