Sunday, January 3, 2010

Babylon Rising - Amanda Boyden

Part of my commitment to New Orleans recovery and greener living is to support local businesses. So it seems fitting that I start the list of books read in 2010 with a novel by a "local" author.

The author's bio in the beginning of the book states that "Amanda Boyden was born in Minnesota and raised in Chicago and St. Louis. Formerly a trapeze artist and contortionist, she earned her MFA from the University of New Orleans, where she now teaches writing. Her first novel, Pretty Little Dirty, was published in 2006."

Some would argue Amanda is not local. Read her book. Yes she is. She has captured the complexities of life in a complex city. Nothing is easy. Very little is exactly as it seems from the outside. The good are not so good. The bad are not all bad. Everyone struggles to survive in their own way.

Amanda also captures New Orleans street speak. I had read her brief bio and wondered how a gal from the north could capture then re-read her bio and realized that any one who teaches in the English department at the University of New Orleans would get a far dose of a wide variety of street speak. I say this as a UNO graduate and as someone who has a typical 9th Ward accent and who was told by her professors that she needed to "clean up her accent". I claimed it was part of "ma culcha" and that I'd keep it thank you and then managed to get a job with a very large corporation out of New York and fit right in because I sounded a lot like a New Yorker. Think about a New York Brooklyn accent and then don't say your R's and you get real close. Even the pace of 9th Ward and most of New Orleans speak is faster than any other "southern" accent. New Orleans is really not the south, we're the northern most tip of the Caribbean. But I digress a bit if only to justify my capacity to vouch for the accuracy of Amanda Boyden's representation of New Orleans. She gets it. She really gets it.

The back cover of the book (purchased at a local, independent book store) captures the story like this: "Ariel May and her husband, Ed, have just moved to New Orleans with their two small children. Their neighbor, Fearius, is a fifteen-year-old newly released from juvenile detention. Across the street, an elderly couple, the Browns, try to pass their days in peace, while Philomenia Bouregard de Bruges, a long time resident and "Uptown lady" peers through her curtains at the East Indian family next door.
With one random accident, a crash across front lawns, the whole neighborhood converges. Together the offer help and cast blame and the lives of these five families intertwine, for better and for worse."

New Orleans neighborhoods are very much like the one portrayed in Babylon Rising. This book is a complex gumbo of people and the lives they live and at only 301 pages an interesting, inherently human and introspective first read of the new year.

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