Saturday, February 13, 2010
"In Heaven all the interesting people are missing." Nietzsche
Not since I read Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain" have I wholeheartedly enjoyed a story of a time in history and the characters who had so much to tell.
It is New Orleans, just after WWI. Sam Simoneaux returns from the war. He did not engage in the action but experienced the horrific aftermath of the conflict. Sam takes a job as a floor walker at a department store. A little girl is kidnapped from the store while he is on duty and he loses his job.
Having lost a child himself, he is anguished by the parents' pain. He accepts a job, joining them on a steamboat providing entertainment along the Mississippi waters. Sam feels that he could search for the missing child as the boat stops at ports along the river.
He keeps his eyes open for the one thing he remembers about the kidnapping, a woman who is missing her front teeth.
As Sam's search continues, the author's rich description of life along the river banks draws the reader's interest and imagination. We observe the hard working men and women drawn to the boat by the sounds of the calliope.
One lead surfaces about a family named Shadlock. What happens next makes Sam grateful that he's still alive. Sam is a haunted character, but admirable for his compassion, bravery and determination.
The Mississippi is also a character as the reader experiences the life of the people along its shores. We see the lawlessness, the excitement that the musical steamboat brings to the farmers, saw millers, and "hillbillies" along the river's edge. In this manner, there is a similarity to Inman's odessey in "Cold Mountain," experiencing the people on his odessy home to a life of peace with his love.
Among the other characters, Ralph Shadlock, who bemoaned the loss of his dog more than his mother's death, was the most memorable.
The plot tells of a time and place in history, rich with folklore and life of the past. It provides a vivid picture of the music, prejudice and life on the Mississippi.