STARRED REVIEW
November 2017

A family in the wreckage

By C. Morgan Babst

C. Morgan Babst’s debut novel draws its title from a Japanese phrase signifying ephemerality, but it doubles as a description of New Orleans after Katrina. As a fictional retelling thereof, the book has few superiors. In Babst’s phrase, Katrina was a “hate crime of municipal proportion,” referring to the racial disparity in the storm’s victims.

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A new novel about Hurricane Katrina could seem like retreading ancient history. That was before Hurricane Harvey made an ocean of southeast Texas and harassed Louisiana. Before Irma smashed into the Caribbean and Florida, and Maria into Puerto Rico. All made landfall close to the 12th anniversary of Katrina, which left wounds that are still raw.

C. Morgan Babst’s debut novel draws its title from a Japanese phrase signifying ephemerality, but it doubles as a description of New Orleans after Katrina. As a fictional retelling thereof, the book has few superiors. In Babst’s phrase, Katrina was a “hate crime of municipal proportion,” referring to the racial disparity in the storm’s victims.

Reminiscent of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, The Floating World is also a meditation on kinship and family history. Like Franzen’s chaotic family, the one here is ambivalent toward their hometown. Before Katrina, the protagonist, Del, escaped to New York. After Katrina, the family patriarch sinks into assisted living. Their relations with each other and the world are stormy. One of them might have committed a murder.

The Deep South can seem fatalistic at the best of times, but the hurricane dragged this to new depths. Babst evokes Katrina’s symbology, like the Xs marking houses containing the deceased. She also revisits discussions about whether NOLA has a future in light of rising seas, to what extent the city’s devil-may-care ethos contributed to its destruction, and how the media fed off the Big Easy’s pain.

The author resists the temptation to turn her novel into a tract or advocacy—not that it lacks passion. To the contrary, the novel is very much of our irritable, harried times.

Like Harvey, Katrina was not just a storm but also a reconfiguration of a community. Babst’s novel is an invaluable record of that social devastation—and a warning of the devastations like Harvey to come.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Floating World

The Floating World

By C. Morgan Babst
Algonquin
ISBN 9781616205287

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