The lives of four unlikely friends intersect on the backstreets of New Orleans. Living amid poverty and violence, these fragile heroes of the American underclass redefine our notions of family, redemption, and love.
In her debut collection, Johnson maps the lives of several New Orleanians who orbit Delia Delahoussaye's Laundromat on Palmyra Street, where “saying hello and fighting can sound just alike.” The title story finds a stoned teenage Delia longing to kiss a girl named Chuck in the belly of an empty oil tank, a makeshift sense-deprivation chamber that Delia thinks “shakes you loose from yourself.” By the end of the second story, “Keeping Her Difficult Balance,” it's unclear whether Delia will ever escape her childhood identity. “If the Holy Spirit Comes for You” finds her brother, Dooley, nursing a pig his uncles want to slaughter, and the story's moral nuance and consequences echo through “Killer Heart,” where an older Dooley's good deeds lead to tragedy. In “Titty Baby,” a child called Pudge must protect his baby sister from an abusive father. Years later, in “St. Luis of Palmyra,” Pudge's child creates his own criminal code of conduct. Johnson has a deep well of empathy for her characters, and her book's big heart beats strongest when portraying Mid-City's most marginal characters. (Nov.)