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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
Louisiana Breakdown

by Lucius Shepard

(Golden Gryphon, $21.95, 145 pages, hardcover; published in April 2003.)

Louisiana Breakdown adds another title to Lucius Shepard's already impressive list of outstanding novellas and short novels. Like his previous book -- Valentine, another short novel -- cover scanLouisiana Breakdown is a torrid love story, this time set in the steamy town of Grail, Louisiana.

Jack Mustaine's car breaks down just outside of Grail. He winds up at Le Bon Chance, the town's hard-drinking, hard-rocking bar. He finds himself thrust in the middle of more weirdness than he cares to handle, and things just get weirder when thirty-year-old Vida Dumars, Grail's Midsummer Queen, falls in love with him, or with who and what she believes him to be.

Jack, too, falls in love, but he's wary and skeptical of the strange tales he hears from and about her. It seems that powerful sorcerers are fighting each other over Vida, and it all has to do with her role as Midsummer Queen and the upcoming St. John's Eve, when Vida will pass the title to her ten-year-old successor. The Midsummer Queen is a sacrifice of sorts, offered to the Good Gray Man in exchange for Grail's continued posterity.

Louisiana Breakdown is sumptuously written, oozing sweat, sex, and strangeness with heady insouciance. Its characters are intriguing and complex, their emotions and motivations impossible to pin down succinctly. Its plot is enriched by a multiplicity of other stories that cross paths with this one, without ever fully being explained: they add texture, colour, and substance and open up the world of Shepard's folkloric Louisiana beyond the confines of this one tale.

In other words, don't expect everything to make fully rational sense. Much in the manner of David Lynch's films, Shepard effects inexplicable and disturbing identity permutations on this journey into the hidden, dark mythology of America.

Louisiana Breakdown is a gorgeously intense experience.

Originally published
in The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 26 April 2003.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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