UNREAL WORLDSLouisiana Breakdown
By Lucius Shepard; illustrated by J.K. Potter (Golden Gryphon, $21.95) Grade: A
Although the set-up for Louisiana Breakdown may have been used before, the rest of the book is pure Lucius Shepard. And pure Shepard (winner of multiple Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy awards) is purely disturbing and purely remarkable.
Down-on-his-luck songwriter/guitar player Jack Mustaine is on his way to Florida, where he plans to resurrect his career. But his BMW breaks down on the outskirts of Grail, La., a backwater village where old and new religions mix, where Christianity and voodoo live side by side. There, he will find the woman of his dreams and bad dreams that become reality.
Every 20 years the town and its spirit, the Good Gray Man, select a 10-year-old Midsummer Queen, who is supposed to absorb all of the bad luck, so that Grail can prosper. The reign of the beautiful and cursed Vida Dumars will come to an end the evening after Mustaine arrives.
His first night in town, Jack finds himself in Le Bon Chance saloon, and he and Vida hit it off immediately. For the first time in his life, Jack is in love. And, for the first time since she became Midsummer Queen, Vida sees a possibility of escape.
Before this can happen, Vida will have to pass her scepter to the new queen. But will Jack be able to save her from the fate that previous queens have suffered? Is he strong enough to face the Gray Man, who is really not so good after all, and save the woman he loves?
Shepard's short novel brings to mind Shirley Jackson's classic "The Lottery" — with a Cajun beat. And it leaves readers with the same disquieting aftertaste. As Poppy Z. Brite says in her introduction, "Lucius Shepard captures the south Louisiana sense of pantheism better than any other author."
If you think that Louisiana is just about New Orleans at Mardi Gras, Louisiana Breakdown will open your eyes and cause you to make sure your car is in good working order before driving on the state's back roads.
— Mark Graham, Rocky Mountain News, April 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The E.W. Scripps Co.