The Sound of Building Coffins

The Sound of Building Coffins

4.2 9
by Louis Maistros

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This ambitious, vivid novel by writer, New Orleans resident and jazz record shop owner Maistros starts out in the Big Easy of 1891. Noonday Morningstar, an African-American Baptist preacher, is summoned to pray over a dying one-year-old boy whose supposed illness is actually demonic possession. Aided by Dr. Jack, an abortionist and witch doctor; Beauregard Church, a veteran prison guard; and Buddy Bolden, a cornet player specializing in the new jazz sound, Noonday performs a voodoo exorcism. Fifteen years later, Noonday is dead, and his youngest son, the diminutive and gifted Typhus, has developed an odd love for Lily, a girl he knows only through a photograph. Following Typhus and those connected to the exorcism through New Orleans' vibrant underbelly, Maistros develops a rich, dangerous world of musicians, mob justice and magic. Stylistic flourishes, lush descriptions (especially of the voodoo practices), and dialect-heavy narration sometimes jar the story's flow, but the plot's insistent pace builds to a satisfying though familiar storm-buffeted climax. (Feb.)

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Library Journal

One has to write with considerable authenticity to pull off a story steeped in magic and swamp water that examines race and class, death and rebirth, Haitian voodoo, and the beginnings of jazz in 1891 New Orleans. Maistros's gritty debut novel follows the interconnected lives of the Morningstar siblings-all lovingly named by their father after diseases-as they wrestle with a powerful demon, con outsiders, kill and die, die and are reborn. The plot is complex and magical, grounded in the history of the city, without being overly sentimental. There is a comfort with death as a part of life in this work that reveals deep feeling for the city and its past. Of course, every novel about New Orleans must have a good hurricane. Like the one in Zora Neale Hurston's classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, this hurricane destroys the city while making hope possible. Highly recommended for all fiction collections, especially where there is an interest in jazz.
—Gwen Vredevoogd

Kirkus Reviews
Cursed lives revived and cleansed by a 1906 New Orleans flood. Maistros' characters represent the dregs of the old New Orleans underclass, Creoles of mixed-race heritage. In 1891, the habitues of a local gin joint attend the exorcism of a djab, or voodoo demon, possessing Dominick, infant son of Antonio, who has just been lynched by an anti-immigrant mob. This demon was originally unleashed in 1853, when Malvina, a voodoo priestess, summoned it to wreak revenge on Marcus Nobody Special, a gravedigger who had impregnated and abandoned her niece Maria. Noonday Morningstar, a widowed preacher, defies divine warnings to preside over the exorcism, and pays with his life. Also present is Doctor Jack, a sawbones and abortionist, and nine-year-old Typhus (Noonday's children are all named after diseases), whose heart is gripped by his father's ghostly hand. Dominick grows into trickster and troublemaker Jim Jam Jump, spelling trouble for the surviving Morningstars, including his partner-in-crime Dropsy. The tangled fortunes of Noonday's progeny are the closest thing this novel has to a unifying device. Malaria gives up singing ambitions to mother her orphaned siblings. Diphtheria has clawed her way up from "the cribs," low-rent fleshpots, to the relative luxe of the city's best bordello. Her son West, whose neglectful father Buddy becomes the first jazz cornet man, is obsessed with buttons. Diphtheria elected not to abort him with Doctor Jack's toxic tea. Typhus, Doctor Jack's assistant, "rebirths" aborted fetuses by reshaping them into Mississippi catfishes. Doctor Jack urges Typhus, now a man forever trapped in a nine-year-old's body, to concentrate his unmet romantic yearnings on the photographof a mysterious beauty. Marcus fishes tirelessly, awaiting an encounter with one special catfish, his lost son. The spirit realm, which in Maistros' world resides in water, intrudes upon the living with plenty of irreverent and poignant commentary. As the great flood approaches, the Morningstar body count mounts, and self-effacing Malaria will be the family's last hope. Riotous, undisciplined and disjointed, yet mesmerizing. Agent: Barbara Braun/Barbara Braun Literary Agency

Product Details

Toby Press LLC, The
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.40(d)

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Sound of Building Coffins 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am not sure how to describe this book. I have never read anything like it. It was interesting and imaginative.
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Dulcibelle More than 1 year ago
An absolutely beautiful book in a spooky, eerie, magical realism way. It's just full of the flavor of New Orleans (or at least, how I think of New Orleans) with Hoodoo women, ghosts, magical catfish, and the birth of Jazz. Most of the characters have a dark side, which they show frequently, but even so, most of the characters are quite likable. Even those not likable are interesting. The story twists and turns around itself, much like the eddies in the swamps and bayous, and ends up in a place quite different from where it started. I quite enjoyed it.
Kirstennola More than 1 year ago
This book rocked my brain, broke my heart and captured the dark and often ugly ¿beauty¿ of New Orleans like no other book I¿ve ever read. Having lived in the city for some years I am always skeptical when anyone tries to capture the essence of New Orleans and put it down on paper. Louis Maistros exceeded all expectations and left me stunned. He nailed it. The Sound of Building Coffins captured the threads of shining beauty, blinding pain, hope, loss of faith, love, regret, and unfailing redemption and managed to weave them all intricately into an amazing story that twisted and turned kept me up at night. I could not put this book down. I could not wait to finish it and yet when I turned the last page I felt a sinking sense of sadness ¿ I wanted to read more. Maistros and his brilliant Sound of Building Coffins brought me home and at the same time reminded me why I left¿ and my relationship with catfish will never be the same.