Former contortionist and trapeze artist Boyden (Pretty Little Dirty) invokes an array of New Orleans voices on Uptown's Orchid Street. Daniel Harris, a smalltime teenage drug dealer who goes by "Fearius," hopes "[t]oday gone be his day" and the coming Hurricane Ivan will drive junkies into a stockpiling frenzy. Although his voice more often mimics street patois than evokes his character, language crystallizes with character in his white neighbor, the 57-year-old Philomenia Beauregard de Bruges, who seeks to divest her neighborhood of undesirables. Orchid Street's Minneapolis transplants, Ed Flank and Ariel May, meanwhile, struggle to maintain a family in an American Babylon that batters and woos with delights and disasters. Into the mix move the Guptas, an Indian family who have a difficult time breaking the ice. Though it could lose some extraneous passages, the book's nuanced story of people who "choose to live... inside the big lasso of river" reveals a side of the Crescent City not often seen in fiction. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Threats of natural disaster bracket this novel of New Orleans, which opens just prior to Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and ends with the ominous approach of Katrina the following summer. In the intervening year, certain residents of the Uptown district weather personal tragedies rivaling the impact of killer storms. Orchid Street, diverse by any standard, includes two African American families, upstanding senior citizens Roy and Cerise Brown and the more struggling Harrises, as well as a young family of well-meaning but clueless whites recently arrived from Minnesota, a half-mad gentlewoman of the old school, and the exotic, intellectual Gupta clan. Neighborhood bar Tokyo Rose serves all as both haven from and catalyst of neighborhood disturbances. As lives and cultures overlap, the author of Pretty Little Dirty melds an enticing sense of place and a kaleidoscope of distinctive voices into a cautionary tale of ambition, desire, and conflict. Perhaps there are too many voices: character development is notably uneven, and the level of mayhem, drunkenness, murder, corruption, and adultery occurring within 12 months on one street is not wholly convincing. However, Boyden writes with a style and flair that bear watching. Recommended for comprehensive fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/15/08.]
Starr E. Smith
Big Doins in the Big Easy: Racial and domestic tensions play out against the backdrop of Hurricane Ivan, the Tokyo Rose Bar and La Belle Nouvelle, a French Quarter hotel. Ed Flank and Ariel May (and their two children, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis May) have recently moved from Minnesota to New Orleans so Ariel can manage La Belle Nouvelle-and she gets much more than she bargained for. While she's preoccupied with the hotel, Miles starts to turn into a seven-year-old homeboy, and Ed, a Buddhist, is barely managing to keep his cool in the heat of the city. The ethnically diverse neighborhood they move into-far different from the homogeneity of the North-includes the Guptas, an academic couple from India; Cerise, a woman who from her perch on her front porch has for years watched the neighborhood drama unfold before her eyes; Philomenia Beauregard de Bruges (aka "Prancie"), who keeps a journal that chronicles her growing dementia; and Sharon Harris, whose two sons, Michael and Daniel (street names Muzzle and Fearius), succumb to life on the streets by getting mixed up with dope-dealer Alphonse. As Hurricane Ivan approaches, the psychological tension ratchets up several notches. While Ed and the children leave with the Guptas to escape Ivan, Ariel stays behind to cater to guests wanting to party up a storm, as it were. Ariel has been finding herself erotically attracted to Javier, the young sous chef at the hotel's restaurant, and Ed's absence allows her to act on her impulses, a decision she comes to regret later when Javier contemplates suing her for sexual harassment. Boyden (Pretty Little Dirty, 2006, etc.) inhabits a number of voices over the course of the narrative. Fearius, forexample, "dont wanna rap with slow boy Boo, but it aint a good idea if he perch hisself on some neighbor stoop."After some intense emotional interaction, the novel devolves into a dissatisfying and somewhat unbelievable conclusion of killing and reconciliation.
"Boyden has a chameleon-like ability to inhabit any persona, of any race or age, so fully and seamlessly it's hard to remember that these people are invented rather than real. Pre-Katrina New Orleans leaps to life on every page, a beautiful, seamy, fragile city on the brink of chaos and ruin. Babylon Rolling is a heart-breaking and riveting novel."
—Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man
"Boyden invoked an array of New Orleans voices on Uptown's Orchid Street . . . an American Babylon that batters and woos with delights and disasters . . . The book's nuanced story of people who 'choose to live . . . inside the big lasso of river' reveals a side of the Crescent City not often seen in fiction."
“Few contemporary novels are, at their root, as compellingly about the relationship between a city and the people who live there. Boyden’s Babylon Rolling is a love letter, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, sometimes beautiful, between New Orleans and five people who live on one of its streets.”
—Steven Galloway for the Globe and Mail
“A genuine American literary talent.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“With microscopic precision, Boyden is able to show how lives intersect, how one event perpetuates another and how we as human beings are all connected.”
“An adroit, compulsively readable study of a city and the shared humanity that unites its diverse inhabitants.”