Lucius Shepard, Louisiana Breakdown (Golden Gryphon, 2003)

Louisiana Breakdown is a tragic novella of pain and magic in small-town Louisiana. Vida Dumars is Grail's Midsummer Queen, the guarantor of the town's luck. Her reign is coming to an end. Jack Mustaine is a musician, fleeing the West Coast for what he hopes is paradise and oblivion in Florida. His vehicle breaks down on the edge of town, and he's swept into the St. John's Eve madness. Does anyone survive? Not unchanged, that's for sure, and maybe not at all.

Louisiana Breakdown blends music and religion and sex in one of those nasty stews where you never know what's going to end up in your bowl.

Vida was swept away to New Orleans by Marsh, a witch-man who degraded her sexually and psychologically. She has escaped him physically, but he still has a mental hold on her. I'm not sure if her name comes from the Spanish word for life or the French vide, empty. Either would apply.

Jack has been told that he is emotionally disconnected from life. That's one of the characteristics of the psychopath, isn't it? He's fleeing a relationship with an older woman, one who got too close for comfort. He's taken the car he was supposed to be paying her back for.

The two join, in more ways than one, to try to rescue Vida from the Good Gray Man and from Marsh. Nothing quite works the way it is supposed to.

J.K. Potter's illustrations are just detailed enough to let you see far too much of what is going on, just hazy enough that you are never quite sure of anything.

What did I like about this book? Well, Shepard has a way with description. You can open the book at random and find something rich. "A rectangle about the size of a double bed, lit by a sputtering fluorescent tube that flared as bright as a bar of burning magnesium" (page 19); "A tiger with gemmy eyes padded along beside her" (page 55); "Drops of rain produced numb circles on his skin" (page 86) — I just did.

What don't I like? The story.

I'm not sure I was ever adolescent enough to be titillated by a woman being bewitched into thinking she's being raped with a stick, thank you very much. I also empathize with illustrator J.K. Potter, who says in the Afterword that he is "a man who likes his Christianity straight up, without the voodoo chaser" (page 144). That's about how I feel about the mystical aspects of the whole thing. Also, frankly, I vastly prefer happy endings. I don't think even the Good Gray Man is happy about this one.

On the other hand, I know that many people will adore precisely the aspects of Louisiana Breakdown that I detested. Seriously, though, if this is Louisiana, I'm awfully glad I'm an Acadienne and not a Cajun.

[Faith J. Cormier]

If you are interested in Lucius Shepard's other writings, try this Web site, or here, or here. There is a fascinating interview with him here. J.K. Potter's Web site is here.