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The Unnatural History of Cypress Parishby Elise Blackwell
Synopses & Reviews
Set in southern Louisiana in the weeks preceding the great flood of 1927, this novel depicts a place and way of life about to be forever changed. On the verge of manhood and a stone’s throw of the rising Mississippi River, Louis Proby is pulled between his love of the natural world and the glittering temptations of New Orleans, between the beautiful Nanette Lançon and a father who no longer seems larger-than-life, between the simplicity of childhood and the complicated decisions of adulthood.
Louis comes of age at a time when the country is coming of age. In Louisiana, it’s a time when the powerful prove themselves willing to sacrifice the poor to protect their position. As the people of Cypress Parish go about their daily lives, bankers in New Orleans are plotting to alter those lives irrevocably. Like so many calamities, the one that befalls Cypress Parish has both natural and human causes.
Based on historical events and narrated on the eve of another disaster, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish tells the story of a young man growing up in a time and place not quite like any other. And in doing so it reveals the complexity of our own relationship to the past. This a beautifully turned novel of love and natural history, married to the shadowy politics of Louisiana, a novel about what manhood means now and what it meant in the south in the 1920s.
"Blackwell weaves human history with the natural history and, with an assortment of vibrant characters, tells a compelling story of a river that still resists the best math and science humanity can construct. Highly recommended." Library Journal (starred review)
"Blackwell has produced a wistful, thoughtful book. For lovers of Southern fiction, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish is definitely recommended. It’s also recommended for most everyone else who appreciates a well-done story." Historical Novels Review
As the waters of the Mississippi rise in 1927, the moneyed powers of Louisiana must decide which Parish to flood in order to save New Orleans.
Louis Proby is an old man now, sitting in his study in New Orleans awaiting what they say is a huge storm, Hurricane Katrina. As he watches the skies darken, he remembers his earlier life, as a watchful, curious young man filled with hunger and desire in Cypress Parish, the life that was washed away when the Mississippi River flooded in 1927. He remembers exactly how the Parish was sacrificed to those watersbecause the city fathers said it was expendable. They said that flooding Louiss home was necessary to save New Orleans. He has long known that was never the truth. The Parish could have been spared. And he has always known the part his father played in that decision. But what he thinks on now is the dearest cost extracted from him on the day they dynamited the dikes and let the waters flow. He thinks on his first love, Nanette Lanon.
About the Author
Elise Blackwell is the author of three previous novels: Hunger, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish, and Grub. Her books have been chosen for numerous “Best of the Year” lists and her short prose has be published in Witness, Topic, Seed, and other publications. Originally from southern Louisiana, she earned her MFA from the University of California-Irvine and is on the creative writing faculty of the University of South Carolina.
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