The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish by Elise Blackwell
Published April 2007 by Unbridled Books
The year is 1927 and Louis Proby is growing up in the small town of Cypress in southern Mississippi as the rising river begins to become a concern. Louis has concerns of his own. A sister he feels he needs to help watch out for, a new girlfriend, and a father that may not be the larger-than-life person Louis has always thought he was. When Louis gets a job with the richest man in town, driving him into New Orleans, it opens up a whole new world for Louis, one that allows him to meet the movers and shakers of the time. And to learn how much they are willing to sacrifice. The book is based on historical events and narrated on the eve of Hurricane Katrina.
I read this book as part of Dewey's Read-A-Thon and it was a great choice. I was hoping for books that I wouldn't be able to put down and that's exactly what I got in this book. Blackwell has crafted a beautiful story of relationships - between people and with nature.
Here Blackwell writes about Louis' "first time:'
"Later I would try to reconstruct each sound, each rustle of clothing or leaf, each sigh or gasp, each kiss and touch and realization. I would strain to remember the precise order of events, the character of each senstion and wash of feeling."
And here a bar setting from Louis' first encounter with the man who would make his father seem much smaller to Louis:
"The stale smell of the previous night's liquor and cigars soaked the unmoving air, and the floor was littered with matchsticks, cigarette butts, losing raffle tickets, and paper napkins, some bearing names and addresses that had been cast aside."
A part of the book deals with a leper colony. Did you even know that leperosy was around in the south in this time? Treatment of lepers had not advanced much in nearly 2000 years.
"Lepers entering the colony at Carville in the early decades of the twentieth century were encouraged, if not coerced, to change their names. It was thought that both the lepers and their families were better off parting ways for good."
"Many a carefully drawn family tree had a stunted limb, a truncation bearing only the first name of an aunt or uncle or cousin who - though everyone had known where he or she had been taken - had disappeared as if forever into the mysterious word Carville."
So sad, as is so much in this book. But well worth reading. Wonderful story, wonderful characters, beautiful prose.