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.
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