The Washington Post
Book World

Small Town Necromancy

Lucius Shepard's new novel, Louisiana Breakdown (Golden Gryphon, $21.95), is dark fantasy of a high order. It is an engrossing, fast-moving novel, ripe with menacing atmosphere and infused with Shepard's trademark prose-poetry:

"She was muttering to herself, speaking in a language composed of harsh glottals and chuckling half-swallowed vowels. For a scrap of time he felt her presence intensely, as a man trapped beneath a massive stone would feel — dazed, distant from pain, but sensing a terrible pressure close at hand . . . a wormy, gut-coiling fear of something on the very edge of his perceptions, something dogs might see but he could not."

The fearful protagonist, Jack Mustaine, here reacts to the prophecies of Madeleine LeCleuse, backwoods sorceress. Madeleine's paranormal proclivities hardly raise an eyebrow among the colorful locals, however. Everybody in the suggestively named town of Grail, La., seems to possess one form of mystical power or another.

Jack, a musician on his furtive way from Los Angeles to Florida, has automobile trouble in Grail. He's hassled by a local cop but gets out of the jam when a powerful guy named Joe Dill turns up on the scene. Dill arrives in the company of a lovely Vietnamese woman named Tuyet. They take Jack to a bar, and he plays the blues for them, impressing beautiful Vida Dumars, the Midsummer Queen. Jack falls in love with Vida and tries to persuade her to leave the one-horse, if magical, town. But first certain rituals must be observed to rid Grail of the Good Gray Man, a malignant spirit that has haunted the local bayou for 200 years. Needless to say, it all comes together on Midsummer Night's Eve.

If much of this ghostly narrative sounds familiar, Shepard's observant eye and an unexpectedly downbeat ending carry the day, along with some soaring prose. There are occasions, however, when he strains a little too hard for effect:

"She could stand up to a lot so long as she had hope. She didn't have much, just a sprig. But like the aluminum Christmas tree with spray-painted gold leaves her mama kept in the closet, it required no nourishment to survive."

But such infelicities are thankfully rare amid Louisiana Breakdown's generally fine writing.

— Tim Sullivan, The Washington Post Book World, Sunday, June 8, 2003, Page BW13

© 2003 The Washington Post Company


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