The Parade Goes On Without You
By Andrea Boll
NOLAFugees Press. 145 pages, $15
1 p.m.-3 p.m., Sat. June 6
Garden District Book Shop, 2727 Prytania St., 895-2266; www.gardendistrictbookshop.com
The chaos, joy, sound and fury of a second line — no doubt it's been used before as a metaphor for New Orleans, but the image of a brass band parade as the city writ small is the central conceit of The Parade Goes On Without You, Andrea Boll's debut novel. Boll, a professor of English at Dillard University, has an ear for both the music of the street and the music inherent in the city's vernacular, and her prose winds, stomps and wails.
Boll's plot is a short story told in snippets over a period of many years: the tale of Luna, a twentysomething white girl who moves to town and is invited to a second line by her innkeeper, Rob. Luna immediately finds her own New Orleans in the movable parties of the social aid and pleasure clubs: a place grounded in brass and bounce and defiant ecstasy, the "drums pounding out a rhythm that is older than Jesus." Before long she's haunting Vaughan's and Joe's Cozy Corner and 6th Ward clubs where white girls don't usually go — making friends over joints, blunts and beers, learning the dance that starts with P and ends with pop. All this is conveyed in fragments and scraps and page-long chapters that are sometimes chronological, sometimes not. (Bonus point: It also may be New Orleans' first post-Katrina novel that doesn't even mention the storm.)
Luna begins an affair with Blue, a bass drummer in one of the bands, and through him she meets friends — Pepper, Jomo and Seven — as well as enemies, including Tina, Blue's longtime girlfriend and the mother of his children. In the meantime, Luna and Blue romance, argue, break up, come together. Several characters die. Luna marries someone else, a white musician named Jackson who "plays in bars where nobody dances," and moves to Lafayette. When New Orleans exerts its inexorable pull over her, Luna comes back, only to find the 9th Ward is now hip, filled with "the white people who never wave." The parade has moved on for both Luna and Blue, but only one of them can accept it.
All this is told in fewer than 150 pages in a paperback slim as a chapbook, interspersed with reproductions of actual flyers for Sunday second lines. Parade is the first novel published by NOLAFugees Press, a print offshoot of the Web site and Internet magazine NOLAFugees.com. Some might find it slight, balanced somewhere between poetry and a novella, but Boll's is an interesting new voice. Readers would do well to mind the admonition on one of the second-line flyers in the book: "Leave all guns, dogs, negativity and attitudes at home, please."