Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book O'The Decade: The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans

Y'all may not know this, but I'm rather partial to New Orleans, even though I've only been there like twice. The first time was for this big Mensa hoo ha, right before Hurricane Katrina (in fact Hurricane Cindy hit while we were there; only a Cat One, but saying "only" and "Cat One" in the same sentence when discussing hurricanes is like saying "only" and "Hurricane" when discussing alcoholic beverages). The second time was for the big Pen to Press Writers Retreat, where I got to hang out with the inimitable F. Paul Wilson, stayed with good friend Marcia and maybe possibly met my new agent (which is to say he hasn't rejected me, yet.) And of course there was that stint with the Small Business Administration, in which I talked to scads of people every day on the phone, and gave them directions to places I'd never been all over Orleans, Metarie and Plaquemines Parish to meet with loan adjusters, appraisers and other trustworthy government officials. So I kind of have a hankerin' for the place in a not-sure-I'd-wanna-live-there-but-it's-awesome-to-visit kind of way.

(And were they ever hiring paralegals after Katrina. Wow. Every old firm in Louisiana had like three or four positions open because people had been evacuated and just couldn't make their way back for whatever reason. After the SBA laid me off I was saying to Joan, "Seriously, we could do a lot worse," but apparently libraries weren't hiring at the same prodigious rate. So we stayed put. But it was a thought.)

Anyway, this and the blog and my extreme fondness for things made from the essence of ground beans made me a natural to review The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans, a novel in three parts by David Lummis. Click on that link and it'll take you to, where you can get a copy in both Kindle and paperback. You can also get it as a vastly cooler and more technologically efficient NookBook, about which I'm not the slightest bit biased. (Nooks rule! Kindles drool!) I just knocked off Part One, and I'm not sure when Part Two is coming out but you'll hear it here first.

Coffee Shop Chronicles is the saga of B. Sammy Singleton, the gay, agnostic, eight-years-sober son of a preacher man who came to New Orleans from New York looking to become a real writer. The first person he meets is Catfish, who runs a shop that sells architectural salvage and rehabilitates low-income housing. Catfish has recently been sprung from jail, accused of tomb desecration; when he promptly disappears, Sammy sets out to find him. Along the way, he learns that Catfish's family is old New Orleans, and their fortune was built on the backs of slaves. As Sammy learns more about what he begins to call the American Holocaust, he finds out more than he ever wanted to know about Catfish, and more to the point, how a person might hate his family name so much that he might consider irreversible alternatives to separate himself from his history.

Coffee Shop Chronicles is not without its flaws. It's too long, for one thing; at least seventy pages too long, and probably more than that. It shifts back and forth in time in a way that made me dizzy and didn't really tackle the meat of its subject until the very end. But when it got there, it really got there, and packed most of its emotion into the last forty pages in a way that can't be described as other than gut-wrenching. I'm very much looking forward to Part Two, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if this is one of those Hunger Games Trilogy type deals where Part Two's going to end on some massive cliffhanger that practically begs to have Part Three already purchased and in hand. So go check it out. (And if you have a Nook, as opposed to a proprietary Kindle, you really can check it out, from your local library. So there. Nyah.)

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