New Orleans, 1999. Simpson Weems is a 36-year-old aspiring poet whose life has been on hold—to the breaking point. All he needs to fulfill his potential is to move to San Francisco, but he’s torn between his long-held dream of being a great artist and obligations to his ailing mother and his emotionally volatile brother, the all-demanding Bartholomew. Will someone in his family have to die before he can get to California? And how might that be arranged? Written “on location” in New Orleans and set shortly before Hurricane Katrina, Elysian Fields has been likened to works by Tennessee Williams, Walker Percy, Robert Penn Warren, and Rabelais. It combines the comic strangeness of Flannery O’Connor and hints of magical realism to portray highly individualized characters and a Crescent City that is both recognizable and more offbeat and seductive than visitors usually see, from Bourbon Bath, a water-pleasure house in the Vieux Carré (“Warm Baths with Hot, Slippery Wet-Dream Girls!”) to a fantastical Carnival interlude in a subterranean tavern deep beneath the French Quarter. Praise for Elysian Fields “Engrossing . . . Readers will find the author’s portrayal of New Orleans convincing and his characters fascinating and fully developed.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “Compelling and mesmerizing . . . Elysian Fields is real literature coming out of a real place.” —Christine Wiltz, bestselling author of The Last Madam
Life in the Weems family of 1999 New Orleans is anything but Elysian in this engrossing Southern Gothic snapshot. As Simpson ponders whether to kill his brother Bartholomew, he reflects upon their upbringing with mother Melba. At age 36, Simpson works in a copy shop, but fantasizes of escaping to San Francisco and being a famous poet. The obstacle is Bartholomew—as a second grader, he spent a year in a psychiatric ward—who is presented vividly as possibly autistic and "laced with idiot savantism." LaFlaur deftly alternates between character perspectives, delving into perceptions and motivations. If a healthy dose of odd events infuses the narrative with a slapstick tone in parts, Melba's assurance that family is all you have at the end of the day acquires a kind of bittersweet truth. The apparent reconciliation of the brothers after Melba's death may seem a syrupy aftermath to their conflict, but Simpson's perception of haunted New Orleans hammers home LaFlaur's implication that life consists mostly of dealing with your ghosts. Despite the book's drawn out development, readers will find the author's portrayal of New Orleans convincing and his characters fascinating and fully developed.