This original anthology of noir fiction set across the Big Easy includes new stories by Ace Atkins, Laura Lippman, Maureen Tan, and more.
New Orleans has always the home of the lovable rogue, the poison magnolia, the bent politico, and the heartless con artist. And in post-Katrina times, it’s the same old story—only with a new breed of carpetbagger thrown in. In other words, it’s fertile ground for noir fiction. This sparkling collection of tales, set both before and after the storm, explores the city’s gutted neighborhoods, its outwardly gleaming “sliver by the river,” its still-raunchy French Quarter, and other hoods so far from the Quarter they might as well be on another continent. It also looks back into the city’s darkly colorful, nineteenth century past.
New Orleans Noir includes brand-new stories by Ace Atkins, Laura Lippman, Patty Friedmann, Barbara Hambly, Tim McLoughlin, Olympia Vernon, David Fulmer, Jervey Tervalon, James Nolan, Kalamu ya Salaam, Maureen Tan, Thomas Adcock, Jeri Cain Rossi, Christine Wiltz, Greg Herren, Julie Smith, Eric Overmyer, and Ted O’Brien.A portion of the profits from New Orleans Noir will be donated to Katrina KARES, a hurricane relief program sponsored by the New Orleans Institute that awards grants to writers affected by the hurricane.
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New Orleans Noir
Akashic BooksCopyright © 2007 Julie Smith
All right reserved.
Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleanians used to joke about not really being a part of America, being, in fact, a tiny Third World country unto ourselves. And proud of it, we used to say.
The layers of irony in that idea become clearer-and more numerous-with each day that passes since our city was inundated and, well ... pretty much leveled, except for the skinny strip along the river where we're all hunkered now. (At least those of us who aren't still trying to get home from Houston or haven't packed up and moved to North Carolina.)
The Bubble, we call it, or the Isle of Denial, but some days the denial just doesn't work and neither does the Prozac, and we get all liquid in the eyeballs and have to pull ourselves together.
Little more than a year after the storm, we're still floundering, still in shock, still wondering how to write about such a momentous, life-changing, historic, downright biblical tragedy. We've lost so much that meant so much, and we're struggling so desperately to hold onto what is left. How to convey something like that?
Last Christmas, when we were all just barely home, just starting to get our bearings, a librarian at Tulane University told me she'd already bought twenty-five post-Katrina books for her library. "Nonfiction?" I asked.
"Of course," she said.
She must be up to a hundred by now, but so far as I know, only one post-K novel has been published at this writing. Though I have no doubt hundreds are in the works. Everyone is struggling to find a way to tell his or her story, to tell it in such a way that those who didn't go through this particular bewildering and disorienting loss can understand how it relates to the larger picture, how universal a thing it really is, this destruction and this potential for destruction, this aching misery, this indifference on the part of the rest of the country. Never have so many writers in such a small area become so passionate, yet so desperate, all at the same time. We are at once immobilized by the task and inflamed by it.
So a short story is really the perfect way to stick a toe back in the water. Whether set pre- or post-K (these are the terms we use down here), the stories herein, to my mind, are particularly passionate. Some of the post-K ones will sear your eyeballs. And yet ... so will some of the historic ones.
Patty Friedmann's tale of mean girls at an Uptown private school may well be the most chilling story ever set at a kids' pajama party. The nineteenth-century yarn by Barbara Hambly and David Fulmer's "Algiers," set a century ago, provide ample evidence that, so far as crime is concerned in this French city, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. We've always had our con artists, our gamblers, our two-bit hustlers, and, God knows, our hookers and femmes fatales. We'd hardly be ourselves without them.
Alas, we also have our racists. Jervey Tervalon offers a peek into the discrimination of the past in his story of two wrangling priests, one a bigot and proud of it. Ted O'Brien also tackles the issue of race-with all its tangles and contradictions-in a twenty-first-century mixed neighborhood.
James Nolan's wry and wicked "Open Mike" leads us on a careening tour of the underside-both past and present-of that gaudy world known as the French Quarter; the part the tourists haven't a clue about. Laura Lippman treats us to an insider's look at the Tremé Mardi Gras, one of the city's most colorful, while providing so hair-raising a take on masking that it ventures into horror territory.
Before reading Tim McLoughlin's worldly-wise Irish Channel story, be sure to pour yourself a couple of fingers of Irish whiskey. You'll need it-especially if you next move on to Olympia Vernon's unnerving tale of love gone wrong in the University District.
The Lower Ninth Ward, perhaps our most famous neighborhood of late, was always a tough place, but it had its tender side too, its neighborly, gentle, almost maternal side, the side that makes people so desperate to go back no matter what-no matter that it mostly doesn't even exist anymore. Kalamu ya Salaam skillfully evokes the complexity of its residents' lives.
Not surprisingly, almost half the writers chose to make their stories contemporary. And it's a good choice, I think. For this is what we live with now-this is the new New Orleans. This messy, ugly, often violent, confusing, difficult, inconvenient, frustrating post-Katrina world.
In "Muddy Pond," Maureen Tan wades into a part of the city most of its black and white citizens are only vaguely aware of, and almost never visit-Village de l'Est in New Orleans East, where the church called Mary Queen of Vietnam is the dominant social organization. Unless you count the gangs.
The Masson boys in Thomas Adcock's "Lawyers' Tongues" are pure New Orleans-one a prosecutor, the other a petty thief. They're Gentilly folks who moved up from the nearby St. Bernard project under the watchful eyes of certain Aunt-tees only too eager to see them stumble.
Jeri Cain Rossi's haunting tale of frustration, despair, and desperation-and heat!- in the very bohemian Bywater will make you long for a refreshing dip. Preferably not in the river.
A little known fact: Lakeview, just the other side of the now-famous 17th Street Canal and once the home of well-off white folks, took on just as much water as the Ninth Ward. But since the houses were newer and stronger and mostly brick, it fared better. So unlike the Lower Ninth, it now looks more like a Western ghost town than a field where the gods played pick-up sticks. "Night Taxi," Christine Wiltz's angry, gritty portrayal of latter-day carpetbagging mines those spooky ruins for nasty truths.
Several years ago, the Utne Reader named the Lower Garden District "the hippest neighborhood in America." So naturally plenty of gay people live there and some, just as naturally, have lovers' quarrels. Let's hope most are resolved more peacefully than the one in Greg Herren's "Annunciation Shotgun," a classic noir nightmare in which stepping just over the line opens the narrator's personal Pandora's box.
My own story of looting in the Garden District proper (several feet and a planet away from the Lower Garden District) seeks to remind us that we New Orleanians have no monopoly on taking advantage of our fellow humans.
No fewer than six of our intrepid contributors (including our cover photographer) rode out the storm here-Christine Wiltz, who finally left when the looting got nasty; Jeri Cain Rossi, who got out by commandeering a van (along with five other people, five dogs, and a cat); James Nolan, who escaped with musician Allen Toussaint in a stolen schoolbus; Patty Friedmann, who got trapped in her Uptown home, hitched a rowboat ride to her sister's also flooded house, and had to wait four more days for a second rescue; Olympia Vernon, who was marooned for days in Hammond, Louisiana with no gas, food, or electricity; and photographer David Spielman, who took shelter in a convent with a group of cloistered nuns.
But one of us actually came here voluntarily that week. Ace Atkins blew in from Mississippi on a magazine assignment, and saw things that ... well, that he injected into his powerful story, "Angola South," along with the raw emotion of one who's seen things nobody should have to see.
Last, Eric Overmyer looks through the jaundiced eyes of an Eighth District homicide cop to sing a sort of love song to the noir side of the city. Or maybe it's more like a love-hate song. The first paragraph alone will take the top of your head off-and the funny thing is, it really happened, as did most of the narrator's memories. He reminds us just how violent our history has been, how much of our culture was already lost even before the bitch blew through.
Since the recovery process is more or less a holy cause with most of us, a percentage of the profits from this book will go toward rebuilding the New Orleans Public Library, which is mounting a brave and massive campaign to get the funds it needs to reinvent its broken self.
In addition, the authors were given an opportunity to help their colleagues by waiving their fees and donating the money directly to Katrina K.A.R.E.S. (Katrina Arts Relief and Emergency Support), an arm of the New Orleans Literary Institute that makes small grants to individual authors affected by the storm. We're proud to say we raised money for eleven such grants.
Julie Smith New Orleans, Louisiana February 2007
Excerpted from New Orleans Noir Copyright © 2007 by Julie Smith. Excerpted by permission.
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