“For Better, For Worse: Patient in the Maelstrom” by Carolyn Perry; Sunbury Press, 2011. $14.95
In the months and years following Hurricane Katrina, a number of fine works of both fiction and nonfiction chronicling this historic disaster found their way from their author’s memories to the hearts and minds of thousands of readers.
For anyone not familiar with Carolyn Perry’s riveting 2011 memoir, “For Better, For Worse: Patient in the Maelstrom,” the time to read it is now.
Perry takes us on a journey that begins on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2005, when her husband, Bob, a cancer patient, is admitted to what was then Memorial Medical Center on Napoleon Avenue in Uptown New Orleans. The remainder of the journey is, as we know, history.
Carolyn and Bob Perry, college English professors from Pennsylvania, began vacationing in New Orleans 10 years before retiring in 2003 and purchasing their dream retirement home, a Creole cottage in the French Quarter. Perry writes about her adopted city with obvious affection and great appreciation of the customs and culture.
She’s an accomplished writer, using but not overusing adjectives. The dialog is believable and compelling, and every chapter ending will leave the reader needing to know more. This is a page-turner.
Perry also knows the power of repeated imagery. A white convertible shows up in the following passage, but this is not the last time we see it. “Trees bent and broke in the wind. Water pooled and eddied in the street, the gusts kicking up whitecaps. Shingles flew off roofs and awnings and whole porches tore from their moorings. Fences collapsed, were lifted up, and danced down the street. The force of the wind blew a white convertible slowly down the slope of the parking lot across from us, into the street. Water from the driving rain swirled up from the gutters and half-covered its wheels.”
Perry provides deft descriptions of rising water, extreme sleeping conditions in the hospital’s parking garage and the fearful and frustrated collective state of mind of everyone trapped at Memorial who wondered if help would ever arrive.
She also praises the heroic efforts of the doctors and nurses but gives her readers more than this.
She has a talent for easily shifting the narrative from the nightmarish experience of Katrina to tender and entertaining flashbacks of her 36 years with Bob before the storm.
There is pain here, but it is beautifully balanced with humor and love. We as readers need that respite from the intensity of the horror story that was Katrina. And we imagine the author does, too.
— Celeste Berteau,
“Landfalls” by Naomi J. Williams. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. $26
One of my favorite writers of all time is the venerable Patrick O’Brian. His masterful Aubrey-Maturin series, set aboard a series of British naval vessels during the 19th century, is a delight, and you should read it immediately.
Then go read “Landfalls.” While O’Brian’s characters seem happiest at sea, we only hear from Williams’ French crews when they make landfall, hence the title. Her storytelling is subtle and artful, and the plot bears you along as comfortably as the wind.
She also makes a clever use of viewpoint, changing characters and tenses in midstride without the slightest disruption to the reader.
— Beth Colvin, Gonzales
“The Other Language” by Francesca Marciano. Pantheon, 2014. $24.95
Italian author and screenwriter Francesca Marciano presents a stunning collection of short stories with her latest work, “The Other Language.”
All of the nine stories feature Italian characters and share common themes of wanderlust and change. Marciano’s protagonists come from all walks of life and are scattered across the globe — from New York to Kenya to Rome — but each protagonist is yearning for something (or someone) else but not in an off-putting way.
Highlights are “Chanel,” about a filmmaker who buys a Chanel haute couture gown for the David Awards (the Italian equivalent of the Academy Awards) and, through a series of setbacks, ends up never wearing it, and “The Presence of Men,” in which an old seamstress in a remote Italian village receives the commission of her life when a Hollywood actor hires her to make him a bespoke wardrobe.
I usually don’t go for short stories, but this collection is a gem. It takes talent to create a fully developed atmosphere and characters the reader will care about in some way in just a handful of pages. Marciano has it in spades. Brava.
— Louise Hilton, Baton Rouge