Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pg. 69: Amanda Boyden's "Babylon Rolling"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden.

About the book, from the publisher:
From the acclaimed author of Pretty Little Dirty ("a first novel of complex truth and beauty"--San Francisco Chronicle), comes a glittering, gritty, and unflinching story of five families--black, white, and Indian--living along one block of Uptown, New Orleans.

It is the summer of 2004, and Orchid Street is changing. Newcomers Ariel May and her husband, Ed, relocated from Minnesota, are trying to make sense of the Southern city. From her front porch, Philomenia Beauregard de Bruges watches her new neighbors, the Guptas, as they move into one of the biggest homes. Across the way, Daniel Harris, aka Fearius, has just been released from juvenile detention. And Cerise Brown, a longtime resident now in her late seventies, hopes only to pass the rest of her days in peace.

But with one random accident, a scene of horror on Cerise's front lawn, the whole neighborhood converges on the sidewalk to help, to cast blame, and to offer hope. And as Hurricane Ivan churns his way toward the city, bringing a different series of challenges, these new relationships tighten, intertwining the families' paths for better and for worse.

Told in five achingly real voices, Babylon Rolling is the story of one year on Orchid Street, a place where lives clash and collide, and where the humid air is charged with constant wanting. Offering a bold understanding of human nature and the hidden prejudices we harbor, Babylon Rolling is a powerful portrait of racism in America and a city on the edge of transformation.
Among the early praise for the novel:
“Set in the chaotic months surrounding a treacherous hurricane, Boyden’s second novel is an adroit, compulsively readable study of a city and the shared humanity that unites its diverse inhabitants.”
People, four out of four stars

“Once in a great while, a novel comes along that makes you sit up and look around at your world and see it anew, in all its richness and complexity, as if you had just arrived there from a great distance. Amanda Boyden's second novel, Babylon Rolling, does that for New Orleans…. She surprises at every turn, seizing upon the way violence -- and joy -- can erupt in a moment. Babylon Rolling is many books in one -- a brilliant, nuanced portrait of pre-Katrina New Orleans; a passionate defense of the city; a clear-eyed critique of the problems that remain. Gracefully weaving together strands of race relations, food, music and Mardi Gras (‘Babylon rolls at 5:45, the paper said, Chaos at 6’), Boyden shoots right to the heart of a fabulous, flawed city. Her aim is true. In Babylon Rolling, as in life, New Orleanians stand and fall together, rescue one another and, in doing so, themselves.”
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

“Threats of natural disaster bracket this novel of New Orleans, which opens just prior to Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and ends with the ominous approach of Katrina the following summer. In the intervening year, certain residents of the Uptown district weather personal tragedies rivaling the impact of killer storms. Orchid Street, diverse by any standard, includes two African American families, upstanding senior citizens Roy and Cerise Brown and the more struggling Harrises, as well as a young family of well-meaning but clueless whites recently arrived from Minnesota, a half-mad gentlewoman of the old school, and the exotic, intellectual Gupta clan. Neighborhood bar Tokyo Rose serves all as both haven from and catalyst of neighborhood disturbances. As lives and cultures overlap, the author of Pretty Little Dirty melds an enticing sense of place and a kaleidoscope of distinctive voices into a cautionary tale of ambition, desire, and conflict.”
Library Journal

"Boyden has a chameleon-like ability to inhabit any persona, of any race or age, so fully and seamlessly it's hard to remember that these people are invented rather than real. Pre-Katrina New Orleans leaps to life on every page, a beautiful, seamy, fragile city on the brink of chaos and ruin. Babylon Rolling is a heart-breaking and riveting novel."
–Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man, winner of the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award

"Boyden invoked an array of New Orleans voices on Uptown's Orchid Street . . . an American Babylon that batters and woos with delights and disasters . . . The book's nuanced story of people who 'choose to live . . . inside the big lasso of river' reveals a side of the Crescent City not often seen in fiction."
Publishers Weekly
Read an excerpt from Babylon Rolling, and learn more about the book at the Pantheon website.

Amanda Boyden was born in Minnesota and raised in Chicago and St. Louis. Formerly a circus trapeze artist and contortionist, she earned her MFA from the University of New Orleans, where she now teaches writing. Her first novel, Pretty Little Dirty, was published in 2006.

The Page 69 Test: Babylon Rolling.

--Marshal Zeringue