Doing the Devil’s Work

faulkner house books loehfelm

Bill Loehfelm. Doing the Devil’s Work. Sarah Crichton Books, 2015. 26.00. Stop by Faulkner House Books or call us to purchase your copy!

Bill Loehfelm’s newest novel, Doing the Devil’s Work, the third in the Maureen Coughlin series, is both thrilling and gritty, a story you will want to devour in one sitting, but which will stay with you for days afterward. Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, the book’s sense of place is created with hyper-realist precision. From an Audubon Park mansion to a Central City sidestreet to Coughlin’s own home in the Irish Channel, Loehfelm takes the reader on a tour of the city through the eyes of a cop who has recently moved here from Staten Island. Loehfelm includes a murder outside F&M’s, an interview at the Rose Nicaud, and a late night drinking at Ms. Mae’s, among other local markers. This book never lets you forget its setting, and locals and tourists alike will enjoy this gripping journey through what might be the closest thing to the real contemporary New Orleans ever portrayed in fiction.

In this installment of the series, Maureen has finished her police training and is finally a real New Orleans cop, but she is far from out of the woods. The department, and the city, is rife with corruption. They are understaffed, publicly disliked, and overworked, and these obstacles, as well as departmental politics and unwanted attention from the federal government after the 2013 consent decree, frustrate any neat solution to the murder mystery that begins with a dead body in an abandoned Central City home. Maureen finds herself torn between her instincts and a department that encourages her to stay out of it. And as an isolated murder quickly spirals into something much bigger, Maureen struggles to toe the line of police department ethics and politics while doing all she can to solve the crime.

Maureen herself is a character worth spending time with. She is both gutsy and empathetic, and her cop instincts are what drive this plot forward. Though she is no saint, Maureen is unphased by the social hierarchies of her newly adopted city, and her integrity is near unshakeable. As she says to her colleague, “The consent decree is going to change everything. That old-boy network stuff, that who-you-knew-in-high-school shit is going out the window.” Her New York attitude reflects the very real changes happening in a city that sometimes feels as if it being forcibly dragged into the twenty-first century, for better and for worse. And as a female protagonist, Maureen’s sharp tongue and tough attitude, not to mention her competence as a police officer, are nothing short of refreshing. Both her flaws and her virtues are realistic. Loehfelm is a master of characterization. He writes dialogue that is quick and witty, and from this dialogue spring dazzlingly realized characters.

From the police department, to the characters, to the city itself, this is a book in three dimensions: sparklingly real, never romanticized, never gratuitous. Doing the Devil’s Work is a highly satisfying read. My only regret is the wait for the sequel.

Calvino’s Cosmicomics

photoItalo Calvino. The Complete Cosmicomics. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. $24.00. Call (504) 524-2940 or visit us to purchase a copy!

This beautiful new edition of Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics brings together all of the Cosmicomics for the first time in one place, including a few stories that have never before been translated into English. If you have never read these stories before, you are in for a treat: Calvino’s vision of a primordial universe as playground for his protagonist Qfwfq is transportative. We follow Qfwfq and his friends from the Big Bang through to the creation of life on earth and evolution. One of the most beautiful stories is the first, “The Distance of the Moon,” in which Qfwfq remembers when the moon passed so close to earth that he and his companions would take a boat out to the sea and climb a ladder to its surface. He tells us,

    On those nights the water was very calm, so silvery it looked like mercury,
    and the fish in it, violet-coloured, unable to resist the Moon’s attraction,   
    rose to the surface, all of them, and so did the octopuses and the saffron
    medusas. There was always a flight of tiny creatures–little crabs, squid, and
    even some weeds, light and filmy, and coral plants–that broke from the
    sea and ended up on the Moon, hanging down from that lime-white ceiling,
    or else they stayed in midair, a phosphorescent swarm we had to drive off,
    waving banana leaves at them.
  
Calvino’s prose is where poetry and science mingle, and these stories, collected for the first time in their entirety, tell not only of the creation of the universe, but of love and loss. These tales are richly imagined, and the stunning images of the early universe as envisioned by Calvino will stay with you for a long, long time.

Andy Young’s All Night It Is Morning

andy young

Andy Young. All Night It Is Morning. Diálogos Books, 2014. Call (504) 524-2940 or visit us to purchase a copy!

Faulkner House Books wishes you all a happy and healthy 2015. We are beginning the New Year with a review of local poet Andy Young’s new collection from Diálogos Books, All Night It Is Morning. If you haven’t yet committed to a new year’s resolution, reading more local writers and supporting your local literary community is a great way to kick off 2015. And Young’s book is a fantastic place to start.

All Night It Is Morning is a book rich with beauty and disaster. Young, who was born in West Virginia, has spent most of her adult life in New Orleans, and lived for two years in Cairo after marrying into an Egyptian family, weaves together narratives of Katrina, the Egyptian revolution, the BP oil spill, and mining disasters in a way that feels surprisingly seamless. The poems are organized not by topic or time period, but organically, so that poems from different places and times are juxtaposed throughout the book. The reader is immersed in what becomes a single narrative of the human experience. Young’s language is precise and careful, creating a kind of restrained lushness of landscape, in which no word is superfluous.

One of my favorite poems in this collection is a three-part poem titled Cleopatra. In it, Young details Cleopatra’s pregnancy, creating a stunning narrative of a woman whose womb holds, literally, the future of Egypt. It is an apt conceit for a modern Egypt transformed by a revolutionary younger generation. Young writes, in the voice of Cleopatra,

 

             His empire is my body now.

            Sovereign, he proclaims

                             me ill or well.

 

            I bow to the triumvirate

                        of his metu,

            sinew, flesh

            to the advancing armies

                        of his blood.

 

And yet, as the reader knows, Ptolemy Philadephus will not fulfill this destiny. Cleopatra and Marc Antony will commit suicide and Octavian will conquer the empire, torturing the orphaned royal children by forcing them to walk through the streets in heavy chains. Even children are not spared the horrors of war. In As You Sleep, the Dead Multiply, Young juxtaposes the casualties of war with the innocence of a new baby:

 

       Your infant face is still

       like glass as the children

 

       of Qana are wiped of their dust.

 

Young does not shy away from the brutality of revolution, but neither does she deny that it is essential. In Warning, she lists the inconveniences of revolution:

 

             the revolution is not

            good for personal hygiene

            not good for sleep not good

            for business the revolution is not

            good for bill paying…

 

And so on. The poem ends, “Though poetry is fine,” reminding the reader that poetry is more than a quotidian pleasure; it is essential, and becomes even more essential in times of upheaval.

Her poems about Katrina illustrate this truth as well, that poetry is sometimes the only coherent way to respond to tragedy. Her poem Lower Nine is a dirge for the Lower Ninth Ward, for the lives and homes lost in the flooding. She writes,

 

          the moon a smudge above the wreckage

          here is the peace of the grave

            ….

            oh lady of ruins, your head crushed to dust

            where are the ones you have no eyes to see

 

            where did they go, dragging their bags

            across the bridge to find ground

 

            where do they rest if they rest if they rest

            and where would they be if they returned

 

the canal and its ships drift on, drift on

the canal and its ships drift on

 

Young looks to tragedy with a panoramic vision, seeing both the egrets, “white as bone,” and the “store lifted onto a truck.” The commerce of the canal goes on even in the face of horror, of death, of loss, but poetry immortalizes that which has been washed away.

In this book, Young gives beautiful insight into what it means to love and be a part of places that are beset by environmental and human tragedy. And for her, inevitably, tragedy is bound up with a kind of triumph: the poet’s voice rises from the ashes, the community rebuilds, the lives of the dead are celebrated, the people fight for freedom, the landscape, once broken, heals. But our responsibility to work for a better world always remains. The stakes are unavoidably high: as she writes in Deepwater Horizon, the second of her Oil Sonnets series,

 

             The earth will not die, though it

            might shrug off a continent,

            convert and re-form us: fossil and dross.

 

In this beautiful collection, Young reminds us that we do not deserve the world if we are not willing to fight for it.