Babylon Rolling rocks with the energy of its characters, the author writing in the tough-talking, streetwise narrative style of Richard Wright, with believable regional dialogue and real people with demanding lives, all residents of Orchid Street in New Orleans. It is summer 2004; Hurricane Ivan looms while Katrina is a distant threat, far off the radar. An eclectic street peopled by families, black, white and East Indian, and the low-key bar Tokyo Rose, Orchid Street reflects the mien of New Orleans, divergent and colorful, embracing many cultures and classes.
Ed and Ariel are recent Minneapolis transplants. Ed is a Buddhist househusband trying to balance family discipline with reason, while Ariel is the general manager of a French Quarter hotel, La Belle Nouvelle, which caters to up-and-coming celebrities and new-money rappers, bored with her marriage and tempted to stray. Then there are the Browns, Cerise and Roy, a 70-something couple whose regular largesse includes neighborhood barbeques.
The Guptas, Ganesh and Indira are newcomers, Indira a slight curiosity in brilliantly hued saris and red-dotted forehead. The Guptas are courted by Philomenia (Prancie) Beauregard de Bruges, who creates a flurry of confections with hopes for an invitation inside the home; meanwhile her husband, Joe, languishes in a dark bedroom, suffering the final stages of cancer.
Something is amiss with Philomenia, though it is difficult to measure the degree of her mental instability given a recent burst of generosity: cooking for the patrons of Tokyo Rose. Sharon Harris’ brood overflows the confines of their disheveled home, grandbabies wailing, while Harris daughters chat up local males, and their brothers, Michael (Muzzle) and Daniel (Fearius) run drugs on the streets, dreaming of spinners and diamond-crusted grilles.
As surely as Ivan rides the near horizon, trouble is brewing on Orchid Street, a random clash of street violence and a personal meltdown. All and sundry are drawn into the flow of events that begins with a freak sidewalk accident and culminates in bloodshed and death, the residents stunned by the blight that visits their neighborhood and leaves them reeling.
Behind closed doors, each family struggles with its own issues - a troubled marriage, an intransigent daughter, an unfaithful husband dying by degrees, and the ultimate chaos of street life fueled by drug money and dreams of grandeur. Like New Orleans, this is a place of survivors, for the most part flexible and generous, big-hearted and forgiving. Of course, Katrina looms in the future, but these finely wrought characters embody the heart of New Orleans, a testament to the human spirit in the face of destruction, indomitable and proud.