Louisiana Breakdown, Lucius Shepard (Golden Gryphon 1-930846-14-2, $21.95, 145pp, hc) April 2003. Cover by J.K. Potter.
In Grail the luck of the town depends on the Midsummer Queen, a 10-year-old maiden chosen every 20 years. While the terms may sound suspiciously Celtic, the practice has become thoroughly indigenous. As for the "breakdown" of the title, it's a punning reference to a literally inoperable car belonging to Jack Mustaine, an L.A. singer-songwriter who had planned to breeze right through Grail — until the BMW stops running and he gets sucked into the portentous events related to this particular Midsummer Night's Eve. A characteristic Shepard passage, recapping a little too much of what he has already shown more directly, features Jack playing guitar in local nightspot Le Bon Chance:
Set this beside the book's bravura opening passage, with its vistas of "scrawny old suspender-wearing men listening to baseball on the gas station radio . . . Dinged cars and battered pickups parked on the slant with gray patches of Bondo on their fenders, Ragin' Cajun decals polka-dotting the windshields," and you may understand why I sometimes have problems with Shepard. When you can convey an atmosphere so well through imagery, why go back and laboriously spell things out?
Analysis works better as part of the dialog. One of the locals, a woman who's been around, may put it best of all when she tells Mustaine, late in the game, "New York, Los Angeles . . . Omaha, you look beneath the surface, it's nuts everywhere. Difference 'tween the rest of the world and Grail, our surface been peeled away for a couple hundred years. We in what'cha might call plain fuckin' view." And that's where Shepard does excel, in Louisiana Breakdown and elsewhere — with his ability to peel away the surface without destroying all the mystery.
— Faren Miller, Locus, May 2003