The New Orleans Demimonde

"The Big Uneasy"
AMERICAN SCHOLAR (Autumn 2014) Subscription only

Gary Krist's new book, Empire of Sin, reads like a book-length top-ten list of New Orleans history, 1890-1920. It's got the shooting by (and shooting of) Robert Charles, a 34-year-old bowler-wearing black man from Mississippi who was deeply troubled by the injustice of merely being black in New Orleans. It has the assassination of Police Chief David C. Hennessy and the ugly lynchings that followed. It has Plessy v. Ferguson, the red-light district of Storyville, and Louis Armstrong. And it has dapper Tom Anderson, the "mayor" of Storyville, who anchors much of the tale.

In the end, I wasn't fully convinced that the narrative came together — the series of unresolved murders that open and close the book are intriguing but scattershot. But if read as a series of free-standing episodes, the book offers an initriguing view of the city's demimonde when it was at its peak.

My review is in the print edition of American Scholar, available in bookstores and libraries. It's also online, but like all good demimondes, it's hidden behind a paywall.