Monday, September 24, 2012

In Search of "The Last Beaucoeur"

 a book review of The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans- Part 2: The Last Beaucoeur

Reading "The Last Beaucoeur" photo by James Thiebaud

Having adored The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans, Part 1 ( see my review “Finding Home” ), I have been eagerly awaiting Part 2.

In Part 1, the lovable, witty protagonist B. Sammy Singleton is attempting to write a guidebook to the coffee shops of New Orleans. Easily distracted on a good day, he becomes obsessed with discovering the whereabouts of his close friend Charles “Catfish” Beaucoeur after a recent disappearance. We are introduced to Catfish in the beginning, but for much of the book he is as elusive as a ghost. The first part ends with a poem, “Old Glory,” penned by Catfish. The poignancy of the words leaves the reader with an intense desire to know this man; Part 2 gratifies this wish.

The prologue to The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans- Part 2: The Last Beaucoeur is a surreal hallucination which seems to foreshadow the ending. Eerily, the book begins and ends on Friday, August 26, 2005, just days before Hurricane Katrina makes landfall in Louisiana. The backdrop is a city in frenzy with uncertainty as New Orleanians asked themselves the question: Stay or go? The preparations and evacuations heighten Sammy’s urgency to find Catfish. Lummis writes deftly, positioning the reader alongside Sammy in his confusion, anxiety, and desperation.

The story is told in glimpses from Sammy’s childhood, but predominately through memories of Catfish’s lifelong friend, Lee Ann Rush. Lummis expertly merges fact and fiction, evident in the key character of a Magazine Street antiques dealer. Via Lee Ann, readers are finally rewarded an intimacy with Catfish, and a long-awaited yearning for Sammy as well.

Without giving the details of these secrets away, we learn the painful reasons why he periodically disappears along with the hurt and guilt he harbors for sins he did not commit. Lummis has done his research and these revelations are immensely powerful.

I’m ready for Part 3.

Find Part 1 and 2 here:

Kristin Fouquet, September 2012