Well, that was a wild ride.
Those were the first words that left my lips after I closed the cover of The Last Days of Louisiana Red.
The novel starts off folkloric, with a tone that could easily be imagined as the rustic voice of an aged Danny Glover sitting on the front porch in some back country New Orleans patio. That voice tells the tale of one Ed Yellings, who traveled out west to Berkeley, California. Ed was a Worker and a worker (the distinction isn’t really clarified) and he aims to put an end to Louisiana Red.
What is Louisiana Red you ask? Well, Louisiana Red is the strife in society, the stuff that causes men and woman to be rude to each other, to make one another’s lives a pain. We learn later that it is some sort of corporation, possibly lead by the white man to keep the black man down, and it has roots in the Oedipal complex too. I think. Well, how is that single and humble worker, excuse me, Worker, going to stop that Louisiana Red? By opening a Gumbo Business out of the Berkeley Marina of course! Isn’t that what you would do? Well of course you would because if you were Ed Yellings, you’d be a thinker who knows that the Business isn’t really about Gumbo, it is about stopping cancer and curing the public addiction to heroin. It is a secret business that isn’t much more that rice and okra and chicken. But this book isn’t really about Ed Yellings, because he is a tragic guy and just as we get into his story he dies.
This is really the story about Ed’s bumbling and selfish children. And with the transition to the next generation, a generation of the sixties, the folkloric tone is lost and the narrator gets a little schizophrenic, part action, part mystery, part voodoo witchlore, the narration goes all over the hear and now to tell the tale of Ed’s children and the mess they find themselves in.
Who are those kids? Well, Wolf, the headstrong eldest son runs the Gumbo Business. Street, the second son is a thug and a hooligan and some sort of African God able to woo any woman that he lays eyes on. Sister, the oldest daughter is kind of a nobody, which is why I think she only got the name sister. And then there is Minnie, the youngest. Minnie is a Moocher, well, she is THE moocher, the leader of a cult of Moochers that believe that what’s yours is mine because we are all brothers and sisters and all is for the taking. Well, Minnie’s mooching philosophy causes some problems for Wolf and she gets Street involved and everyone suffers and some of them die and it isn’t quite clear what comes of Louisiana Red in the end but there certainly isn’t any more cancer curing heroin heeling Gumbo.
It is darn easy to say that a lot of stuff happens in this short little book. There is also a side story about a couple of Moochers named Kingfish and Brown as well as an actor named Chorus who is putting on a performance of Antigone. Somewhere in we also find a convoluted reference to the presence of the ancient Egyptian God Osiris who has been living in the zoo as an Orangutan. I might not be totally clear on that one, so don’t quote me OK?
Well, it certainly was a wild ride and I did enjoy it a hell of a lot more than Mumbo Jumbo although it could be easily said that The Last Days of Louisiana Red is full of a whole lot of mumbo jumbo. That is for sure.