Tag Archives: New Orleans

A highly original time-shifting thriller rendered in gorgeous prose

The Shimmer, by Carsten Stroud. Mira Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Here is a daring, magnetic, and brilliantly constructed novel that takes readers places they’ve never been. Well, you may have traveled to Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and New Orleans – but you will not have encountered the kind of time-travel orchestration of action that Mr. Stroud has managed to portray with such power and authoritative detail. “Authoritative” is the right word. These places and what happens in them – and then unhappens – are so compellingly imagined that you will believe what can’t be true.  

The narrative begins with a high-speed chase episode that is unforgettable – and it gains momentum from there.

In the present, Florida Highway Patrol’s Sergeant Jack Redding pursues a serial killer, a kind of time traveling femme fatale, who back in 1957 was sought by his grandfather, Clete Redding, of the Jacksonville police. The cycles of pursuit and escape follow this evil spirit known as Selena, Diana, and by several other names as well. Her lifetime is extended by time shifts that involve riding a time-bending force called The Shimmer. To catch her, one must follow her. Time markers in the Selena story go back to 1914.

Carsten Stroud photo credit Linda Mair

One aspect of the plot premise is the possibility that the damage Selena has done can be undone by adjustments in – or to – time. However, these adjustments – if made by entering through the wrong temporal portal – can have disastrous unintended consequences. Characters travel into the past to shape (reshape?) the future, but the outcomes of their efforts, even if in pursuit of justice, are unpredictable.

Mr. Stroud builds a fascinating logic of cause and effect that keeps readers hooked while it keeps them guessing. As the characters slide (or shimmer) from the world we share to the world adjusted by time travel, our belief in them is carried over to our belief in what they experience and hold true.

Can a tragedy that occurs on the Matanzas Inlet bridge along Florida’s route A1A be wiped away by a time shift back to before the bride was built? If so, what other time-bound occurrences will be altered? . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the July 11, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Shimmer

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“The Not Yet,” by Moira Crone

University of New Orleans Press. 272 pages. $15.95

Imagining a Mississippi Delta area significantly transformed by decades of ferocious hurricanes, Moira Crone takes us to a realm of islands where immortals rule and the rest live lives of aspiration or rebellion in a caste-bound, static society. Who wouldn’t want to become an Heir, a medical marvel with a replaceable designer outer body (prodermis) that keeps one looking youthful and in style? Who wouldn’t want to join the power elite and control the resources of the 22nd century United Authority (UA), its various districts and protectorates?

Who wouldn’t want to be taken care of by the administrative bureaucracies of WELLFI and WELLVAC? In Ms. Crone’s fascinating vision, at once inspired and grotesque, the health system is equivalent to the government. (Sound familiar?)

Moira Crone

How much room is there for new Heirs when the existing ones are immortal? How powerful is the incentive to become one when the path requires so many years of subservience and discipline and medical transformation? When the system works no better than the moral compass of its leaders?

The novel’s protagonist and narrator, 20-year old Malcolm de Lazarus, is a Not Yet. He has spent much of his life as a performer for the amusement of the Heirs. As an orphan who has been selected for Heir status, he has now approached the boundary-time for his remaking. However, something is wrong: the Trust established to maintain him – hypothetically forever – has been compromised. He sets out to determine the facts and to discover if it’s possible to restore his Trust (at once faith and funds).

Malcolm’s voyage, which moves both forward and backward (to the orphanage where he and others were raised), takes on a mythical feel while raising key philosophical questions about identity, loyalty, rules, and the limits of human wish fulfillment. 

What amazes about Moira Crone’s novel is not only the boldness of the premise, but also the startling minutiae of its execution. The Not Yet transports us to several distinct geo-political subdivisions of the UA, presents a wide range of crisply individualized characters that represent different classes, and conjures up over two centuries of imagined world history that leads up to the ongoing present of 2121. Crone extrapolates from today’s biomedical research to its fulfillment and application in the future.

That said, there are some difficulties for readers to overcome. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in Southern Literary Review, click here: April Read of the Month: “The Not Yet,” by Moira Crone

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Despair parties on: James Nolan’s “Higher Ground”

*James Nolan was best known as a poet, poetry translator, and critic before publishing an award-winning short story collection, Perpetual Care and Other Stories, in 2008. Higher Ground , winner of the William Faulkner-Wisdom Gold Medal in the Novel, adds another dimension to his literary achievement,

This dazzling debut novel set in post-Katrina New Orleans pays both serious and satiric homage to the variety of survivors who never left, came back, or simply showed up in the storm-ravaged city. The title suggests at once the need to rise above the vulnerable, flood-prone elevations and the need to rise above the degradation and corruption that followed the hurricane. People need to find out how to get on with getting on: they need higher spiritual and moral ground. As well, they need to create some redemptive joy out of the madness and mayhem. 

Nicole Naquin has moved back to New Orleans after decades away. She is escaping from a failed marriage and attempting to assist her aging mother, the cantankerous Miss Gertie, who has been reduced to drug-dealing. Employed (actually underemployed) by FEMA, Nicole is already in a despondent state when two calamities befall her on the same day. Her brother, Marky, is killed in a drive-by shooting, and Nicole plows into someone’s FEMA trailer.

That someone turns out to be Kelly Canyon, until recently a reasonably successful middle-class homeowner. Kelly is now headed for divorce and counted among the FEMA-dependent consequences of Katrina. Back in 1975, he was Nicole’s teenage heartthrob. Once fate slams them together, each glimpses the possibility of a new life – a true life – an alternative to the ones they had the ironic good fortune to escape. Though the storm’s aftermath has brought them both down, it seems also to have also finished the process of decline brought on by bad choices and false values. Having bottomed out, there is only one direction left for them to take. Perhaps together.

Killed in the same drive-by episode that felled Marky Naquin, Latrome Batiste is a high school student who seems to have been collateral damage. But was he?

James Nolan

Two very different investigators work the case. One is Lieutenant Vinnie Panarello, a homicide detective who is himself under investigation for shooting someone in the course of an arrest. The other is Gary Cherry, a San Francisco hippie import who has made a home in New Orleans dealing the softer drugs while setting Miss Gertie up in business with illegal “script stuff like Valium, Vicodin, and Xanax.” The two investigators are in each other’s way, but, in spite of different motives, end up working almost in tandem.

While the mystery plot holds interest and is managed skillfully, it is not the main center of attention. The real attraction of Higher Ground is Nolan’s representation, in high-powered episodes, of the sensory and spiritual New Orleans he so obviously loves. Drag queens, double-dealers, jobless and homeless strugglers, self-interested politicos, artists, religious seekers, cripples, and crazed psychologists do the dance of self-expression and survival. All this kaleidoscope of human interaction is anchored by a mayoral campaign and the Mardi Gras. All this stew of yearning is seasoned and smothered by the ruins of Katrina and the bureaucratic infection called FEMA.

Higher Ground abounds in dark humor and uproarious hi-jinks as every kind of indignity, sinfulness, and bereavement seeks and approaches a life-affirming antidote and a shaky salvation. In Nolan’s New Orleans, despair parties on.

*This review was first posted on Southernlitreview.com, which is undergoing some technical stresses and strains. Thus, I am posting it here in its entirety (unedited). For the SLR version, click here: http://southernlitreview.com/reviews/higher-ground-by-james-nolan.htm

An interview with Mr. Nolan is also available: http://southernlitreview.com/authors/an-interview-with-james-nolan.htm

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After Katrina

Does Katrina mean pure as in pure hell

or is it the new nick-name for global warming?

Like Adolph, it will fall from favor

with expecting parents.

To me, it’s a bouncy-sounding name:

I see my Katrina dancing,

a farm girl from Belgium or Holland

caught up in a Brueghel painting,

in what Williams called “rollicking measures,”

her skirt twirling like a roulette wheel,

a discus thrown from Biloxi.

But under her skirt are the whirling floaters,

the human flotsam outstretched

like starfish and — spinning, spinning

into the Gulf of Mexico

and across the Atlantic waters.

Washed out of the prisons and nursing homes,

the working-class neighborhoods

(and the neighborhoods without work),

the dockside warehouses, the brothels.

the churches and schools, — and streaming now,

each a little whirlpool of abated life,

a mandala of grief.

I imagine Katrina’s energy,

her benign urge to fulfillment,

the twists and turns of her swerving hips,

and her inevitable dissolution,

and I find that energy returning now

as pinwheel corpses revolve past

the drilling platforms and steer themselves

eastward, bumping against Miami

and then out to the vast, jazzed-up sea.

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BOOK BEAT 61 – G. P. Walmsley

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   January 2-8, 2008

by Philip K. Jason

Neapolitan G. P. Walmsley provides a racy, colorful entertainment with his first novel, “The Virtuoso: A Love Story in Scarlet.” The story takes readers through about three decades, tracing the life of John (or “Jack”) Dupree from his days as a wartime New Orleans street kid of eleven through his ups and downs as a musician, friend, lover, and human being. The part of the portrait that illumines Jack’s coming of age in the 1950s, a section that includes his service in the Korean War, is even better at capturing the feel of a decade than the delineation of the other periods – and this sense of time and place (including St. Louis and New York) is always keen.  

Jack’s early education takes place in the saloons and jazz clubs of his native city, and his passion for jazz, still mainly the province of black musicians, is matched only by his passion for women. His sexual experience begins early, and it continues to define him through the decades the follow. Walmsley draws this formative New Orleans milieu quite convincingly, and along the way he probes the racial tensions of the times. He also probes the dynamics by which racial barriers give way to mutual respect among dedicated, skilled musicians in the world of blues and jazz.

The world of nightclubs, whether sleazy or posh, is interwoven with the world of prostitution. Jack lives in that world as well. When his mother dies, Jack moves on to live with an aunt who is a madam in St. Louis. Soon enough, he meets her friend Sophia, also in that trade, with whom he has a most passionate and complex relationship. Sophia supports, marries, and occasionally torments the much younger hero, helping him to realize his dreams of becoming a top-level musician. Along the way, Jack is transformed into John, and he temporarily puts aside the jazz clarinet for the classical piano. Private tutors, Julliard, minor league competitions and concerts, and an ambitious agent-manager bring Dupree to the threshold of fame and fortune.

Though Sophia tries to bury her past and develops a successful Manhattan boutique, criminal prosecutions for prostitution and tax evasion threaten her – and thus threaten her husband’s chance at the gold ring. In part for this reason, they decide to divorce, but the reader learns of other motives as well.  Incidentally, Walmsley’s background in law enforcement adds credibility to several aspects of his plot.

As much as he cares for Sophia, Jack/John Dupree is tempted by other women, and he strays. Sophia has secrets as well, which I’ll leave for readers to discover.

What Walmsley does best is project the ecstatic moments of creative release – those times when an artist achieves a transcendent state. Both implicitly and explicitly, Walmsley likens this ultimate euphoria to sexual release. There’s nothing new in this comparison, but the author evokes it with skill and force.

He also does a fine job in creating a rich collection of minor characters, including Cotton Blanchard, a wise, caring black musician who becomes Dupree’s mentor and father figure. Dupree’s Aunt Clara is also well-drawn, as is Sophia’s lawyer and a young female violinist named Laura.

What does not serve Walmsley or the reader well is the extremely high proportion of technical errors in the writing: misused words, faulty punctuation, words and phrases set in italics for no good reason, and grammatical lapses of all kinds riddle the narrative and almost undermine Walmsley’s accomplishment as a story-teller. I say “almost” because the vigor of the work and the appeal of his characters and plot line somehow rise above these frequent distractions. It is unintentionally ironic that G. P. Walmsley actually offers thanks for editorial assistance. If only he had received skilled professional help, “The Virtuoso” could have been so much better. The patient, forgiving reader can still enjoy a sexy, high-powered thrill ride with rich nostalgia for decades past.

“The Virtuoso” is available from online book dealers, including the publisher authorhouse.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference and Authors & Books Festival presented by the Naples Press Club.

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