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The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld
by Chris Wiltz
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0306810123, Paperback)Actually, they called themselves "landladies" in New Orleans, though that didn't change the nature of their business: running houses of prostitution in the city's wide-open French Quarter. Beginning in 1920, when she was still in her teens, Norma Wallace managed a high-class bordello for an affluent and influential clientele, evading the police and asserting her sexual freedom "like a man" despite the nominal confines of several rickety marriages. Obsessive love for a man 39 years her junior and her first-ever jail term finally put Wallace out of the business in the mid-1960s, but her memories were still vivid and raunchy when she tape-recorded material for an autobiography in the two years before her suicide in 1974. Novelist Christine Wiltz makes good use of those recordings in an earthy narrative filled with great anecdotes, from how the name of Wallace's dog became local slang for an out-of-town customer to the time an undertaker's premises served as her temporary place of business. Wiltz also interviewed many of Wallace's lovers and associates; she draws on popular journalism and scholarly monographs with equal acuity to flesh out Norma's story. Her perceptive biography of a colorful and complex woman is equally satisfying as a social history of 20th-century New Orleans. --Wendy Smith
(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 23 Apr 2011 02:18:03 -0400)
"A chronicle of Norma's rise from a life of poverty to that of a wealthy grande dame--a New Orleans legend with powerful political connections who was given the keys to the city. She answered to no one, and surrendered only to an irrational, obsessive love, which ultimately led to her surprising and violent death."--Jacket.
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