"just you wait. I'm going to get you Josie Moraine."
These are the exact words Cincinnati snarls while licking his teeth and eyeing Josie Moraine whose mother is completely under Cincinatti's spell. Josie is growing up as the daughter of a prostitute in New Orleans in the 1950s. She can make a mean martini and spends her spare time cleaning up the brothel owned by Wilie, a tough, rattling nail voiced woman who has eyes and ears all over the city and who misses nothing.
Josie is looking for a way out of her life. Her mother skips town with her boyfriend and Josie stays behind helping out at the brothel and working at the bookstore across the street with Patrick, her good friend. Patrick and Josie have a set of hand signals devised to guess what genre a customer will choose. One signal means cookbook. Another says mystery. Together they care for Patrick's father, a distinguished author, who is in a degenerative state.
Atmospheric is the best word for this book. The main character of the story is New Orleans with all of its debauchery and the human beings who keep the gears turning and the bars and brothels filled. There are the uptown folks seeking good times and solace in the company of artsy writers and women of the night. There are the "nieces" who work the brothel night after night.
One day a customer, a man named Forrest Hearne, comes into the bookstore and in talking with Josie he assumes she is a college girl. Here is an entirely original and novel mirror for Josie. Never did she imagine herself in those terms but with this man's belief in her, a complete stranger, she turns her ambitions in the direction of Smith College and a whole new version of herself.
The gutters beckon. The mire of her mother's life drags her down. Bright lights flicker through in the form of Cokie, the dedicated driver, Jesse, the mechanic, and Charlotte, the uptown girl already a student at Smith who continues to believe that Josie write a new story for herself.
This is craftmanship. This is fine storytelling. This one is not so much about the action as about the sense of place and the need for escape. Sultry, seedy and unsettling this is a story about the shadow side with its occasional glimpses of loyalty, strength and caring.
For ages 14 and up due to sexuality 346 pages
- Recommended by: Barb