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Joshua David Bellin
- Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Fen de la Guerre lives in the ruins of New Orleans, what's left of the city after catastrophic hurricane damage and epidemic disease cause the United States to separate Louisiana and other southern states permanently from the Union. In this changed Orleans, people are divided into tribes based on blood type--a means of slowing but not halting the spread of the fatal Delta Fever. When Fen's tribe is scattered by marauders and her chieftain dies giving birth to a child, Fen embarks on a hazardous journey that, she hopes, will lead to the child's safety beyond the Wall that separates Orleans from the United States.
That's the premise of Sherri L. Smith's amazing, devastatingly beautiful and sad science-fiction novel ORLEANS. Fen's progress through the ravaged city becomes more complicated when she meets Daniel, a scientist from beyond the Wall whose younger brother died of Delta Fever and who seeks the data he thinks Orleans holds to find an ultimate cure. The juxtaposition of the seasoned Fen, who knows she needs to be as merciless as the city itself, with the naive and idealistic Daniel provides the novel with an appealing friction (but not, thankfully, a romance, which would merely have distracted from the story's compelling quest-structure). And the language of the book is astonishing, alternating between Daniel's formal, third-person past-tense narration and Fen's first-person present-tense dialect. Here's a sample of each:
"A cool smattering of starlight filtered in ever so faintly from the gash in the ceiling of the [Super] Dome, but what it illuminated was no lye pit, no holocaustic vision of piled corpses. He turned in a slow circle, noting every row, every seat in his range of vision. Occupied. By bones."
"The camp look like Hell. All Saints' Day be starting early at the blood farm. They be cooking up a storm, a whole row of cook fires at one end of the camp. Fire after fire, and them cooks be the Devil's handmaidens, stirring pots full of souls.... Standing here seeing them faces, pale in the yellow light, maybe they ain't all human. I know we ain't human to them."
Some reviewers on this site have objected to Fen's dialect, saying it makes the book hard to read. I respectfully disagree. Fen's dialect is the perfect vehicle for conveying her story; it couldn't be told otherwise. Lush and polished as the third-person sections are (as in the above, where the narrator describes a Super Dome turned into a gigantic crypt), it's the grittiness and freshness of Fen's voice that carries the tale, giving us access not only to Fen's strong, determined character but to the entire rich, tragic history of the region. I don't want to suggest that ORLEANS is the equal of Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN--that's an unfair comparison by any measure--but I do want to point out that lots of early readers had trouble with Twain's vernacular too. In both cases, the writer needed to create an idiom commensurate with the narrator's experience, and in both cases, they succeeded brilliantly.
For those looking for uplift, I should also point out that ORLEANS offers very little; as the passages quoted above suggest, Smith's imagined world is a brutal one of death, blood slavery, religious hypocrisy, and fading chances for civilization. At one point, a character muses: "Nature knows what to do with a poison. She dilutes it." The question of whether humanity is itself the poison and an avenging Nature the only solution to it hangs heavily over Smith's book. But as with her daring narrative voice, I admire her book greatly for being willing, like Fen, to stare this possibility in the face without flinching and to carry out her quest to the bitter end.