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The Next Wave 

New Orleans has always called out to writers " drawing them in with the bohemian promise of a lurid-and-cheap lifestyle. Many a hopeful writer has traveled here wanting to live and write in a place that has inspired so many others. Joe Longo, online editor at www.NOLAFugees.com and the editor of the short story anthology, Life in the Wake: Fiction from Post-Katrina New Orleans, worries that the rising cost of living in the city might force many of these budding artists to move elsewhere. 'We want to stay here, but it might become increasingly harder for me and a lot of people who are in our book to do so," Longo says. 'One of the reasons we do what we do is we're sort of being squeezed out of the story."

They won't go down without a fight. Longo and his stable of capable writers at NOLAFugees.com have been trying to make their voice heard since the online satiric magazine debuted in November 2005. NOLAFugees.com purposefully blurs the line between fiction and reality with trenchant-yet-wickedly hilarious articles with headlines like: 'National Guard to Restore False Sense of Hope" and 'Steamboat Shooting Part of Tour."

While this new collection, self-published and featuring many of the Web site's contributors, is set squarely within the confines of fiction, it often provides a true sense of what life is like in post-Katrina New Orleans. Unlike a magazine or newspaper article, the stories aren't forced to consider the 'big picture," nor do they require a peppering of current facts and statistics. Instead they can focus on individual characters like a mother and her two kids as they go trick-or-treating through the streets of the Marigny in Anne Gisleson's 'Boo." The young mom is trying to preserve some sense of normalcy for her kids, but " as any parents who took their children out into New Orleans' streets for Halloween 2006 can tell you " the journey was anything but normal, with darkened streets, National Guard patrols handing out candy and a gang of marauding 12-year-olds. The family itself seems out of place in this post-storm world and, as Gisleson writes, 'huddle close on the narrow sidewalk around the stroller, trying to fit in the frame."

Other stories effectively recall the bleak days immediately following the levee failures. Joel Farrelly's 'Shingled Island" opens up with a young man trapped on a rooftop surrounded by floodwaters as he begins to try to list the reasons why he shouldn't swallow his mother's entire bottle of OxyContin. He doesn't get too far before he remembers whose pills they are: 'Not my mother's, I remind myself. My dead mother's. And right there the list gets shorter." He can hear a helicopter flying nearby, but with so much death coupled with his own developing apathy he wonders: Is being rescued really what he wants?

As the anthology progresses, immediate survival becomes less tenuous, but that's not to say that life in the city is any easier. Instead of drowning in the streets, some people, like the first-person narrator in Tara Jill Ciccarone's 'Reality is a Trigger," ingest whatever " cocaine, alcohol and bad relationships " to avoid this new damaged reality. Not all of the strange behavior patterns can be attributed to the post-storm malaise, but that doesn't make living with the mentally ill any easier as Jennifer A. Kuchta relates in 'Stray." About the only saving grace Kuchta's main character, Lisa, can find in her nearly empty neighborhood is that when her bi-polar lover, Meredith, explodes in a manic fit 'even with the windows open to air out the house, no one will hear her scream."

Like most short story anthologies, not every story in Life in the Wake will resonate with readers. The book offers varying levels of authorial skill, but just like the Fugees' Web site " which contains some articles that will grab you and keep you laughing and nodding agreement, while others only hold your attention for a few paragraphs before you click on to the next " these writers deserve attention. They are producing some of the first post-Katrina fiction and, as Longo points out, each of these voices, even the ones that fail, is attempting to relate what has happened and continues to happen in the city that, literally and figuratively, care and the country forgot.

'We wanted to have an avenue for those writers who otherwise wouldn't get published in places," Longo says. 'Because we tell a different kind of story in terms of what it's like to live here."

The efforts should be applauded, the failures understood and the successes regarded not only for the talented writing, but as reminders of the truth that lies below daily life in Katrina's wake.

click to enlarge Life in the Wake: Fiction from Post-Katrina New Orleans (self-published) - $18
  • Life in the Wake: Fiction from Post-Katrina New Orleans (self-published) $18
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