A smart female detective on the job in a grim New Orleans
Sara Gran, author of 'Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead,' says discussing food or culture in New Orleans is ignoring the tragedy.
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Q: Your portrait of New Orleans is grim, full of decrepit homes, desperate people, and thugs standing on street corners. What made you decide to look at that part of it?Skip to next paragraph
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A: I wanted to write a book that was more about my experiences after the storm. I was really depressed when I wrote the book. Being in New Orleans after the storm was really depressing. The rest of the country seemed to want the cheerful and upbeat stories, but there weren't a lot of them.
I love crawfish étouffée, but I don’t think that’s an appropriate topic in a discussion when thousands of people died and thousands are left homeless, and the people left behind are walking around zombies.
Q: What did you see happening in the city?
A: It was very divided. You'd meet people like me who lost no one and those who lost 15 to 20 family members and neighbors.
There was not an emotional public space to acknowledge the pain that people were going through. People are so terrified of dealing with their pain, but if you don’t, you end up with permanent post-traumatic stress disorder.
Q: It sounds unrelentingly grim, doesn't it?
A: That's what it was like living in this city.
For some reason, nobody really came to help. Two years later, people are saying, "When the aid and the trucks come," and it's like, "Dude, there's no trucks coming." People say, "When we start the rebuilding effort," but there's been no WPA-type rebuilding effort.
Q: Did you worry about being fair to New Orleans?
A: I didn't worry about fair at all, I worried about being honest to my experience and the imaginary world of my characters' experience.
You can't write a book and be fair. You have to write a book and be honest.
There is more to New Orleans than what I pictured. There’s a lot that’s wonderful and beautiful. But there's enough talk about the music and the food.
Q: Your next Claire DeWitt book is due out in the spring of 2013. What's it about?
A: She’s back at home in San Francisco, and a close friend of hers is murdered. The book also goes back to a murder in Brooklyn in the 1980s. It's two stories and alternates between them.
Q: Are you attracted to writing about the darker side of things?
A: I’m more interested in the dark side, in how the people of New Orleans were not perfect.
Everybody wants to talk about the innocent victims, but we're never really innocent victims. We're never really innocent, and it's sort of dehumanizing to say that they are. It's more interesting and respectful to get into these darker areas.
Still, in my previous three books I wrote exclusively about the dark side of things, and that got really boring. What's more interesting are these spaces of light and good deeds that come in these dark spaces.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.