Pros: story, engaging conversational tone, happy ending
Cons: could have used a bit of editing
At one point very late in a book that begins with the assertion that everything in it happened, William L. Fulks (known in these parts as "Phungus," author of e-books When Dragons Sleep and Reciprocity) refers to the book as a “novel.” I think that this is one of the minor mistakes that a good copyeditor would have caught. The book is a personal narrative of someone who lived directly on the path of Hurricane Katrina and was subject to mandatory evacuation from a beachfront apartment building in Gulfport, Mississippi. As he points out with appropriate compassion for the disasters that befell New Orleans when the levees broke after the hurricane, New Orleans was west of where the eye of the hurricane made landfall, and since Gulf of Mexico hurricanes swirl counterclockwise, the west side is relatively drier.
Fulks does not play the “I suffered more than you” game. Indeed, his memoir is remarkably upbeat for someone whose home was destroyed and who lost most everything he owned (except, incongruously two very delicate glass candlesticks that were in debris between two massive chunks of fallen concrete). His planned wedding went ahead with the planned-for bride and planned-for minister, though the planned-for church, the planned-for site of the wedding rehearsal dinner, and the planned-for site of the wedding banquet were all destroyed or so badly damaged as to be unsafe and otherwise unavailable. Plus a maternal uncle’s cancer accelerated in the chaos following the hurricane, the jewelry store where the wedding rings were on layaway was flooded and then closed for months, part of his costume (the tuxedo vest) was not there the night before or the morning of the wedding, the apartment into which the couple was going to move was not ready and, when it supposedly was, the keys did not work, the bulk of the wedding photos were lost, and another hurricane (Wilma) threatened the honeymoon in Orlando. Make my earlier description “very upbeat”!
Though not a comedy of errors and disasters, Fulks maintained some calm and appreciation for his natal family and the large one of Christy, his intended. (I have to say that too many of them are introduced more or less all at once in a heap.) He clearly reports the difficulties of the heat to people accustomed to air-conditioning, problems relating to the proliferation of mold, the struggle to find and secure food, water, and gasoline and the insult added to injury by looters. He also reports the reckless egomaniacal driving of some motorists before and after the hurricane.
As in Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun, Fulks makes clear that some seemingly inexplicably self-destructive (at least dangerous) behavior on the Gulf Coast (as in New Orleans) was motivated by concern for pets, and he adds to the dramatic tales of what the pets locked into flooded rooms did to survive (in the case of his family’s pets).
Fulks also provides a guy’s eye view of the big production of weddings, American Protestant style. Fortunately for the participants and the readers, there was no character like the sister played by Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Gets Married"! The bachelor party went particularly badly. I was startled that is consisted mostly of brothers-in-law-to-be. It’s not that they made it the disaster it turned into, but in my (more northern?) culture, future brother-in-laws would not even be considered in constituting a bachelor party.
There are other cultural differences that are not particularly southern-northern that I will not attempt to detail beyond mentioning Disney World as a honeymoon site and the reception being a Miller Lite kegger.
I think some detail, particularly about rides in Orlando, could profitably have been cut, and sometimes adjectives are repeated within a paragraph, and a few of the most common grammatical mistakes (and very few typos) survived in the text, but mostly I found the book both entertaining and enlightening. I was especially grateful that Fulks made the geography clear, not assuming readers’ familiarity with Mississippi geography. The only thing I noticed not being told about which I was curious was collecting on the renter insurance. I guess if there were any problems with it, Fulks would have mentioned them, so assume payment was forthcoming in a timely manner.
The organization of flashback chapters as the juggernauts of hurricane and wedding charge forward in largely, but not entirely, predictable ways works well, and the conversational style mostly works well. I can’t imagine any reader not emerging at the end wishing the author and his wife and their families well… and hoping that they are not tested again like they were by Katrina, admirably as they rolled with the punches and managed to have their wedding on the date (10/22/2005) they planned. (After new owners jacked up the rent of the apartment they moved into on the morning of the day of the wedding, they bought a house not in a flood zone: hurray!)
©2011, Stephen O. Murray
Thanks to Dramastef for adding this to the database. This review is a contribution jenniferkateab's Geography Write-Off.
I wrote about Zeitoun at www.associatedcontent.com/article/5898356/dave_eggers_talking_about_zeitoun_a.html?cat=2