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Babylon Rolling: A Novel by Amanda Boyden

Babylon Rolling: A Novel

by Amanda Boyden

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Having been such a big fan of Boyden's previous work, Pretty Little Dirty, I was somewhat disappointed by this. The story takes place in New Orleans and spans the time period from right before Hurricane Ivan until a few months before Katrina. Boyden introduces several narrators who all live on Orchid Street. Though few are acquainted at the beginning, their lives will intertwine in unexpected ways. Ed & Ariel are a married couple who moved from Minnesota because Ariel was hired to run a hotel. Next door lives the Ganesh family from India. On the other side of them are Joe and Philomenia, who likes to call herself Prancie. Prancie is not a big fan of the other side of the street, but spends lots of time observing their goings on. Over there live Roy and Cerise, African Americans in their 60's who have been residents of Orchid street for many years. Next door to them are the Harrises, whose young sons are involved in the sale of illegal substances and whose daughters all have babies. On the other side of them a house has been converted to a bar called the Tokyo Rose, which plays a pivotal role in the lives of several of these folks.
Ed, Ariel, Prancie, Cerise and Daniel "Fearius" Harris are our narrators, to whose inner monologue we are treated. Boyden gives each narrator a distinct voice, so we are able to understand who it is we are listening to, but this is sometimes disconcerting, especially in the case of Fearius. I can deal with a regional dialect when it's limited to the dialogue, but whole passages of the book pertaining to Fearius are nearly incomprehensible. In fact, I had to read this sentence from the first chapter several times: "Fearius like cold drinks better than malt liquor when they smokin the hydroponic, but Alphonse be inside Stumps for Colt 40s, and Fearius, his bankroll thin as a spliff now." I got more used to it, though, as the book went on.
Something interesting to note though, and I only noticed it myself as I read an article recently regarding this phenomenon, is that the white people and the young people are the most messed up, while the older black folks seem very wise and all-knowing. We really don't get much more than a glimpse of the East Indians, which was disappointing to me. It seems their function was to inject some mysticism and incense, then return to their home.
It sounds more like I'm complaining than praising this book, but I don't mean to. I really enjoyed reading it and was very much enthralled by the lives of these people. It must be difficult for a writer to get inside each of their heads like that, and Boyden pulls it off reasonably well. ( )
  EmScape | Jul 8, 2010 |
This novel is sort of an interesting character study, showing glimpses of the lives of a bunch of very ethnically diverse people living on one small block (across the street from a tavern, also a character) in pre-Katrina New Orleans. One of the most interesting things in this books is how it shows the effects of truly bad decisions we all make in our lives. It is rattling as most of those horrid decisions for these people are either fatal or emotionally permanently damaging. The writing in this novel was poetic at times, but mostly it's choppy and sophmoric. The chapters vascillate among the characters, and some are more well drawn/believable than others, e.g., the story of Ariel, the disenchanted Minnesota working mom with the "stay at home" husband who she does not respect was chilling and very real feeling, but the first-person narrative of 15-year-old street thug, Daniel/Fearius, was awkward and hard to believe. That said, how the neighbors all came together ... and fell apart ... was interesting, although cliches run rampant among the various ethnicities. The ending is bloody and ridiculous, but hey, it's fiction. This is a quick read, kept my interest and explored race relations with a bit of a different approach, so recommended as something a bit off the beaten path. ( )
1 vote CarolynSchroeder | Apr 13, 2010 |
This is the story of five families living on the same street in New Orleans. By reading about them and their interactions, we have stories of adultery, parenting, illness and recovery, mental illness, disfigurement, and gang violence.

Ed is a stay-home Dad raising two children while his wife Ariel manages a large hotel. Roy and Cerise are an older couple who are involved in a serious accident. Sharon and Nate are raising a family of gang members and teen-aged moms. Indira and Ganesh are recent immigrants. Joe is recovering from cancer while his wife is struggling with an inherited mental illness.

Every family is well drawn, and the point of view changes from character to character bringing added depth to the happenings and feelings on Orchid Street.

This is a good story with many facets that held my interest throughout.

POTENTIAL SPOILER: Joe's behaviour at the end of the book seemed irrational and left me somewhat frustrated. If he knew his wife was ill, why would he provoke her so callously? Then, the unknown relatives arrive. A well-contrived plot seemed to unravel towards the end. ( )
1 vote LynnB | Sep 28, 2009 |
see Book Review file ( )
  louis.manow | Dec 2, 2008 |
gritty yet soft urban fiction; mixed New Orleans neighborhood where character perspective changes every page or 2.
adultery, gang bangers, disfiguring injuries, parenting, and community building
  aletheia21 | Nov 16, 2008 |
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But the people cannot have wells, and so they take rainwater. Neither can they conveniently have cellars, or graves, the town being built upon "made" ground; so they do without both, and few of the living complain, and none of the others. -- Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375425330, Hardcover)

From the acclaimed author of Pretty Little Dirty ("a first novel of complex truth and beauty"--San Francisco Chronicle), comes a glittering, gritty, and unflinching story of five families--black, white, and Indian--living along one block of Uptown, New Orleans.

It is the summer of 2004, and Orchid Street is changing. Newcomers Ariel May and her husband, Ed, relocated from Minnesota, are trying to make sense of the Southern city. From her front porch, Philomenia Beauregard de Bruges watches her new neighbors, the Guptas, as they move into one of the biggest homes. Across the way, Daniel Harris, aka Fearius, has just been released from juvenile detention. And Cerise Brown, a longtime resident now in her late seventies, hopes only to pass the rest of her days in peace.

But with one random accident, a scene of horror on Cerise's front lawn, the whole neighborhood converges on the sidewalk to help, to cast blame, and to offer hope. And as Hurricane Ivan churns his way toward the city, bringing a different series of challenges, these new relationships tighten, intertwining the families' paths for better and for worse.

Told in five achingly real voices, Babylon Rolling is the story of one year on Orchid Street, a place where lives clash and collide, and where the humid air is charged with constant wanting. Offering a bold understanding of human nature and the hidden prejudices we harbor, Babylon Rolling is a powerful portrait of racism in America and a city on the edge of transformation.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:23 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A gritty, unflinching story of five families--black, white and Indian--living along one block of Uptown, New Orleans.

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