As I write this, I still don’t know where Gustav will hit or at what strength. My brother has chosen to stay; he’s on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, about 4 or 5 blocks from the lakefront. He has a generator, food, and water, and he and his family will ride it out. They don’t expect it to be as bad as Katrina, so that’s the decision. The aunts went to Baton Rouge, Grandma was evacuated a couple of days ago, and I suspect the cousin is with her mother in BR. I’ve been there during the remnants of a hurricane. Can’t remember which one, but it had to be the late 70s or early 80s. I remember a lot of wind and rain, but it wasn’t scary. These days, I’d be terrified — but then Katrina and Gustav are completely different from what I experienced.
When I read that Grand Isle had evacuated voluntarily several days ago, it made me think of a book. So, I stared to think it might be nice to talk about books set in Louisiana.
Naturally, any English major who studied Modern Lit would probably think of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Set almost entirely on Grand Isle and in New Orleans, this book is about a woman’s struggle to define herself as an individual during a time when women were only allowed to be wives and mothers. Edna Pontellier dares to want something more — and society does not approve. Nor did it approve of Kate Chopin for writing such racy stuff.
Why is this book so famous? Well, here’s where I admit I haven’t read it yet. It’s set entirely in New Orleans, but I think what makes this book so amazing to me is the story of how it came to be. John Kennedy Toole killed himself before it was published. Eleven years before it was published. His mother found the manuscript in his belongings. Then she insisted that a prominent literary professor read it. He did and championed it to publication.
Oh, and did I mention that it won a Pulitzer Prize? John Kennedy Toole wrote a book, committed suicide at the age of 31, and never lived to see his masterpiece in print. It’s still in print, it won the Pulitzer, and it’s considered to be one of the greatest works of literature ever written.
A woman claims to have killed a Cajun farmer, but when the sheriff arrives, several old black men are claiming to have done the deed. It’s the first time these men have stood up for themselves, and they do so in the face of white power and the racism of the day. The book is described as powerful and moving. I own it, but haven’t read it yet. I intend to.
Now, what about James Lee Burke and the Dave Robicheaux novels? I’ve read a couple, and I’m always amazed by Burke’s way with words. He tells a fine story. There’s All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, loosely based on the life of Huey P. Long — this book is another Pulitzer winner.
I realize this isn’t a complete list by any stretch. For instance, there’s also Anne Rice, who lived in New Orleans for many years and set the Vampire Chronicles there. Jennifer Blake, romance writer, is a native Louisianan and sets many books there.
Nora Roberts set at least one book that I know of in New Orleans (probably more as prolific as she is). Tami Hoag set Lucky’s Lady in the bayou. And who can ever forget Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire? Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando are unforgettable in the movie version of the famous play. Stanley Kowalski standing in the rain and bellowing “Stellaaaaa!” — whoa. Was Brando not amazingly gorgeous back then?
Okay, so he wasn’t nice as Stanley, but he was nice to look at.
That’s my Literary Louisiana tour. I’m sure I’ve left things out, so if you know a good one, give me a shout in the comments! Have you read any of these books? Have you seen Streetcar? The Brando/Leigh version or a different one? If you’ve seen the Brando/Leigh version, have you seen the uncut version with the rape scene? I haven’t yet.
Oh, and Happy Labor Day. Can you believe it’s September already? Another year, another birthday. Wow.