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Revisiting Tragedy, a book review

While all book reviews are a matter of opinion, some subject matter is more personal for certain readers than others. James Lee Burke’s novel The Tin Roof Blowdown brought back one of the most tragic experiences of my life. I confess I have bypassed most books concerning or having Hurricane Katrina as a backdrop. The memory strikes like a raw nerve being hit repeatedly by a dentist’s drill. Some heartache never completely heals; we simply learn to live with it. The optimist in me wants to believe the major tragedies in people’s lives will be the zenith of suffering for them and they will live the rest of their days with renewed reward. However, life is not always so just. When many were beginning to comprehend the effects of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita arrived, adding to the destruction and loss in the region.

In my hometown New Orleans, throughout Louisiana, and along the Gulf Coast, we all suffered in some capacity. Visitors to our region, who understand and appreciate our culture felt the pain. Worldwide, people extended their generosity. I have noticed many victims try not to measure their pain against others of the same tragedy; they seem to only nod in empathy. It is a silent understanding.

When a friend recommended The Tin Roof Blowdown, my immediate reaction was anxiety. I had heard of it along with a list of other post-Katrina titles. I decided to exert some bravery, knowing full well the emotions would resurface. It is a well-constructed crime novel. While I think there were a couple of inaccuracies in the book, overall, Burke conveys the climate of the aftermath with striking detail without being overindulgent. His characters are strong. The menacing character, Ronald Bledsoe, is as creepy and tenacious as Max Cady from Cape Fear, but lacking the charm. My biggest flaw with this novel was a recurring first-person omniscience from protagonist and sometime narrator, Dave Robicheaux. I concede this is my first time reading Burke and his loyal readers must be accustomed to his style, but I found it a bit jarring to read a beautifully detailed first-hand account of a scene in which the character was nowhere near. I found myself asking, “How did he know?”

Halfway through reading, I knew I had an impending vacation to Florida. I confess I was hoping to finish this novel so I could bring some lighter fare to the beach. A bit of fluff among the sun, sand, and surf seemed relaxing. A pressing project commanded my attention and prevented me from completing the book before my trip. Yet, as I held The Tin Roof Blowdown in the salt air and gazed over to the Gulf of Mexico, I was grateful. I thought about the progress that has been made in New Orleans and the region since August 2005. I thought of BP’s rape of the waters in front of me, but thankful so much sea life had returned. I wondered about the next unknown challenge. I felt an overwhelming pride for our endurance and resiliency. I realized the book in my hands, for me, was the perfect beach read.

copyright 2011 Kristin Fouquet


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