Monday, July 30, 2012

Sara Gran in the City of the Dead

Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is, among other things, a vivid and haunting evocation of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It never mentions the words Katrina or hurricane, however, which only adds to the feeling of authenticity.

I imagine that if I'd been trapped in that swampy, rootless, mud-coated hell, I would not talk like a breathless CNN report, either. Instead, I suppose, I would do what the returned, the uprooted, and the left-behind do in Gran's novel and speak, with understandable fear and reticence, about "the storm."

Claire DeWitt ... is a most unconventional PI novel, and I don't mean merely that Gran gives the title character/protagonist a package of quirks, though she does do that. Claire de Witt has lived in a number of cities, imbibing deeply of the eccentricities of all. She's got a bit of Jack Kerouac to her, a bit of Nancy Drew, and a bit of Ghost Dog.

As much fun as the book is, it is immensely moving in places and it constitutes a serious examination of the nature of guilt, good, and revenge and a touching testimony to the importance of friendship. Along the way, it overflows with compassion. But mostly, Gran knows how to tell a story. I'll leave you with one of my favorite examples of the book's verbal zest:
"In the afternoon I went back to Congo Square. This time I went as Elmyra Catalone, African-Italian American recovering crack addict from Memphis, Tennessee, raised Baptist, now occasionally Pentecostal, occasional sex worker, victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a cousin, mother of four children, one dead, one in foster care, one in Angola, one living in the town of Celebration, Florida, with a wife and two children. Elmyra is off the crack cocaine but she likes her liquor and has a schnapps now and then to be sociable."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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8 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

I didn't know it was set in New Orleans--that bumps it right up my list.

July 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, it's all about New Orleans, the most thorough examination I've read of the city. And it's a special book, not like other crime novels you're likely to read.

July 30, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

All those unspecial ones?

July 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I should have made that "...other crime novels one is likely to read." I knew American English's assimilation of the impersonal into the second-person singular would get me in trouble one day. Dang.

July 30, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

You were very prescient.

July 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"You" means "they." That's easy to remember. But, come to think of it, this book is not like crime novels you, I, they, or anyone is likely to read.

You mentioned you'd read a novel of Sara Gran's that was more horror-like. There are definite signs "in Claire DeWitt ..." that she might be comfortable writing horror -- atmosphere, creepy dreams, and so on.

I have read that this book is to be the first in a series. It was so unusual that I admit a bit of apprehension about what Gran could offer a a follow-up.

July 31, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

If you haven't hit the pay wall yet, there is a very good article in an old NYTBR about a new breed of women horror writers, which is what I think first introduced me to Gran. It is here.

July 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That article conjured further interesting associations between crime fiction and horror fiction. I never knew Alexandra Sokoloff wrote horror, for example; I see her at crime conventions all the time (she's hard to miss). And, while I don't know if she teaches fiction- and screenwriting, she has certainly written lessons on the subject.

And I first heard of Elizabeth Hand from Brian Lindenmuth, who may be the widest-ranging reader of genre fiction that I know. I also quite like the beginning of Come Closer.

July 31, 2012  

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