Thursday, July 3, 2008

Desultory Reading

I've been reading the airplane book Ron bought on the way home from his conference trip, James Lee Burke's The Tin Roof Blowdown. I had thought of putting it in my bag for the beach, but Ron is superstitious enough to think that taking a book about a hurricane to a beach vacation isn't a good idea.

I'd gotten tired of James Lee Burke books about Dave Robicheaux. There's always a barbecue made from a cut-open metal trash barrel, and there's always lots of perp-speak and cop shortcut-talk that I don't entirely understand, although it's easy enough to get the gist. Dave's struggles with alcoholism are also not interesting enough to take me through pages and pages of self-destructive tough-guy behavior. But this new one got back on the track, and reminded me of why I liked the first few Dave Robicheaux stories enough to read about a dozen of them before I stopped checking them out of the library whenever I saw a new one (see the list below).

In The Tin Roof Blowdown, Katrina destroys New Orleans (or The Big Sleazy, as Clete Purcell refers to it), and it also seems to clean some of the excesses out of Burke's writing. One disappointment of the book is that there's no real description of what it was like to live through Katrina (Dave was in New Iberia at the time). The description is limited to this:

"To the south, a long black hump begins to gather itself on the earth's rim, swelling out of the water like an enormous whale, extending itself all across the horizon. You cannot believe what you are watching. The black hump is now rushing toward the coastline, gaining momentum and size, increasing in velocity so rapidly that its own crest is absorbed by the wave before it can crash to the surface in front of it."

Burke describes a tidal surge, and then he turns to a conversation with the night jailer in Iberia Parish, and the plot moves forward, obscuring the storm altogether.

The plot encompasses some of the tragedies of the flooding that Katrina produced in New Orleans, along with some by-now routine blaming of the federal government for not doing more. In the years since Katrina, we've heard blame speech on both sides of the issue about Katrina's aftermath (Why should we rebuild below sea level? Well, why were the poorest folks flooded the worst?), and some of the same kinds of questions have been asked about the midwest flooding along the banks of the Mississippi (and occasionally about the beach houses we continue to build on fragile barrier islands, especially on the east coast).

In the end, all I can say about The Tin Roof Blowdown is that it is another good story by a storyteller whose tales have been revitalized by disaster.
1.  The Neon Rain (1987)
2. Heaven's Prisoners (1988)
3. Black Cherry Blues (1989)
4. A Morning for Flamingos (1990)
5. A Stained White Radiance (1992)
6. In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead (1993)
7. Dixie City Jam (1994)
8. Burning Angel (1995)
9. Cadillac Jukebox (1995)
10. Sunset Limited (1998)
11. Purple Cane Road (2000)
12. Jolie Blon's Bounce (2002)
13. Last Car to Elysian Fields (2003)
14. Crusader's Cross (2005)
15. Pegasus Descending (2006)
16. The Tin Roof Blowdown (2007)


Anonymous said...

I didn't understand the concluding part of your article, could you please explain it more?

Jeanne said...

I mean his usual method of telling stories was getting old before Katrina gave him new material.