The International Writers Magazine:
+ ENNUI by Edgar Nicaud
CoatPocket Press, 2005, 188 pp.
not too far into the novel TREMBLE + ENNUI before I was reminded
of the classic A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES by John Kennedy Toole,
now twenty-six years removed from its first publication in 1980.
Both are picaresque New Orleans novels. Both were
published in the shadow of almost unbearable tragedy.
With A CONFEDERACY
OF DUNCES, it was the author's suicide in 1969 at age thirty-two, after
repeated failure to publish a novel that posthumously earned him the
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
With TREMBLE + ENNUI, Edgar Nicaud (who comes from a family
six-generations deep in New Orleans) had returned in July 2005 to the
Crescent City after several years in New York. As he says in an
author note, "TREMBLE + ENNUI was about to be sent to the printer
when the hurricane put the city and my house under water. The
New Orleans I know is gone, for better and for worse." Thankfully
for us readers the novel was published by CoatPocket Press, surviving
in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Like John Kennedy Toole's masterpiece, Edgar Nicaud has fashioned a
comedic romp through some of the beautiful decay that was always New
Orleans. Our guides are a couple, Tremble--she always on the lookout
for a wealthy future husband--and Ennui--he always willing to pause
the action for securing or mixing a martini worthy of a happy W. C.
The misadventures of this roguish duo sets up much of Nicaud's satire,
often gently targeted with hyperbolic wit. Celebrity Chef Intesti's
Chicken à la nude (or raw chicken). The blue blood social
case worker who gets Tremble a job, Mrs. Hemoglobin. And personal
injury lawyer James Potts, who once killed beneath the wheels of an
ambulance returns to sue the ambulance company for wrongful death.
TREMBLE + ENNUI, a tightly written, compact novel and at four-and-a-half
by six inches really a pocket-fitter. But it is by no means a
slight novel or one lacking heft. With one sentence, Nicaud summons
a commanding vision of his city trapped in genteel poverty:
"It was the same litany of ancient mansions collapsing
on vagrant residents, warfare erupting between rival gangs, widespread
drunkenness among the citizenry causing them to do idiotic things, landlord-paid
arsonists torching neighborhoods, cemeteries being robbed en masse and
their artifacts shipped elsewhere to decorate houses of the socially
conscious, politicians stuffing their pockets with bribes and gourmands
stuffing their faces with food, all set amidst a ceaseless season of
society parties where the blue bloods proudly traced their ancestries
to human garbage dumped out of France centuries ago."
A picaresque novel like this, hinting cinematic screwball comedy, must
have pacing and rhythm in its prose that rises to a musical intensity
if it is to succeed. This Nicaud pulls off with polished prose
not only meriting quality comparisons with A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES,
but with a lilt, a swing entirely fitting to the musical heritage venue
the novel surveys.
Published so soon after Katrina, author Nicaud also suggested in his
author note he "thought about whether I should change the book."
A comedic satire about his hometown might seem at odds with the
suffering beyond words the world witnessed. Still, Tremble
and Ennui summon our compassion for being have-nots with few life
choices. With Katrina, we learned how many people were their neighbors.
Moreover, the pages of TREMBLE + ENNUI brim with life lived imaginatively,
if impulsively, while holding at bay any impoverishment of the spirit.
For that Nicaud has given us a valued portrait to remember the
New Orleans before September 2005.
© Charlie Dickinson March 21st 2006
read "stories & more" @ http://charlied.freeshell.org
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