Friday, April 06, 2007

Pg. 99: "The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Elise Blackwell's The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish.

About the book, from the publisher:

Set in southern Louisiana in the weeks preceding the great flood of 1927, this novel depicts a place and way of life about to be forever changed. On the verge of manhood and a stone’s throw of the rising Mississippi River, Louis Proby is pulled between his love of the natural world and the glittering temptations of New Orleans, between the beautiful Nanette Lançon and a father who no longer seems larger-than-life, between the simplicity of childhood and the complicated decisions of adulthood.

Louis comes of age at a time when the country is coming of age. In Louisiana, it’s a time when the powerful prove themselves willing to sacrifice the poor to protect their position. As the people of Cypress Parish go about their daily lives, bankers in New Orleans are plotting to alter those lives irrevocably. Like so many calamities, the one that befalls Cypress Parish has both natural and human causes.

Based on historical events and narrated on the eve of another disaster, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish tells the story of a young man growing up in a time and place not quite like any other. And in doing so it reveals the complexity of our own relationship to the past. This a beautifully turned novel of love and natural history, married to the shadowy politics of Louisiana, a novel about what manhood means now and what it meant in the south in the 1920s.

Among the praise for the novel:
“The present haunts the past in this beautiful and timely book. Blackwell burns time, love, and loss down into a bed of discrete mnemonic coals. The voice is so true that it reads like the purest, most authentic memoir. This novel is tough, and sad, and lovely.”
—Brad Watson, author of Heaven of Mercury and Last Days of the Dog Men

“On the eve of Hurricane Katrina, the now elderly narrator, Louis Proby, remembers the great floods of his small Louisiana town in 1927, recounting an intimate, resonant history of the era…. Blackwell … elegantly chronicles Louis’s conflict between protecting his first love and his obligations to his father, though Louis finds he betrays both.”
Publishers Weekly

“Blackwell weaves human history with the natural history and, with an assortment of vibrant characters, tells a compelling story of a river that still resists the best math and science humanity can construct. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal, starred review

In The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish, Elise Blackwell once again demonstrates her marvelous talent for braiding together public and private history. The result is a beautifully written and absorbing novel.
—Margot Livesey, author of The Missing World

“Elise Blackwell’s novels are sublime. Rendered with precision and humanity, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish is, like Hunger, about memory, history, and what guilt can do to a person over the course of a life. It is also a tour de force. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”
—Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collector and About Grace
Read an excerpt from The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish.

Elise Blackwell is the author of a prior novel, the highly acclaimed Hunger, chosen as a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the year in 2003. Her short prose has appeared in Witness, Seed, Global City Review, Topic and other publications.

The Page 99 Test: The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish.

--Marshal Zeringue