New Orleans Noir

No place as pretty and sad as New Orleans. Depending on if the sun’s shining or not. You ever notice that? Sun’s out, ain’t no prettier place on earth. No place more … resplendent. But gray and gloomy, cloudy, rainy, this town is so shabby, dreary, and downright depressing, makes you wanna take morphine and die.

—– From the short story Marigny Triangle by Eric Overmyer from the collection New Orleans Noir

Since my son Lee enrolled at Tulane I have been reading material set in New Orleans as much as possible. Confederacy of Dunces, Across Magazine Street, The Awakening, The Moviegoer, the Dave Robicheaux series, Zeitoun…. And there are plenty more to go.

I just finished a book of short stories set in The Big Easy – New Orleans Noir. As the title suggests, it is a book of hardboiled crime fiction. Eighteen different stories from eighteen different authors: Thomas Adcock, Ace Atkins, Patty Friedmann, David Fulmer, Barbara Hambly, Greg Herren, Laura Lippman, Tim McLoughlin, James Nolan, Ted O’Brien, Eric Overmyer, Jeri Cain Rossi, Maureen Tan, Jervey Tervalon, Olympia Vernon, Christine Wiltz, Kalamu Ya Salaam, and Julie Smith. This is one book in a series of noir collections, each one set in a different city. I haven’t read any of the others… and I’m not so sure… what city can be more Noir than New Orleans?

The book is divided into two parts – pre and post Katrina. The earlier stories are all over the place: time, tone, setting, genre. Some have a bit of horror thrown in – the excellent “Pony Girl” by Laura Lippman, for example. Post Katrina – well, they focus in on a horror of an entirely different sort. Not so much the rising water but the breakdown in society that can ensue after a disaster like that. I remember the Nicaraguan Earthquake in ’72 – it was that breakdown that was even more frightening than the tumbling masonry.

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods. Each story is set in a different part of the city: Uptown, French Quarter, Bywater, Faubourg Marigny… with a map in the front to keep you oriented.

As you might expect from a collection with eighteen authors, the stories are a bit uneven. Still, the good outweigh the bad by a large margin. Ones that especially resonated with me?

The Lippman “Pony Girl” – short, visual, horrific. Really good.

All I Could Do Was Cry, from the Lower Ninth Ward… by Kalamu Ya Salaam – heartbreaking.

… Now that I look over the table of contents, there is really only one that I didn’t like. I’ll have to reread that one… maybe I missed something.

I’ll have to single out one of the post-Katrina stories, the one by Julie Smith, the woman that put the collection together. Her story, Loot, was a little uneven in pacing, I would like to have seen it written out longer… but the basic story, of the friendship between a lawyer and her housekeeper, was wonderful and felt real.

Don’t take my word for it, read the story here.

Now I have to decide what to read next. I have to be careful what I read because the style and attitude of what I’m reading has such a huge impact on what I write.

Let’s see… I bought a Kindle Book, I Wish, from Wren Emerson and I want to finish that. But I never read only one book at a time, I have a handful of non-fiction library books and a half-dozen in my “Current Reading” collection on my Kindle.

I did read a short story, “Child’s Play” by Alice Munro this afternoon. She is so good, her stories so perfect and jewel-like, they make my heart ache. Nobody does it like she does.

We can all dream

Ok, since I’m thinking about New Orleans, how about a little Big Easy Jazz, OK?