login | Register

The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans

by: David Lummis

Album Artwork

The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans: Part 1   
by David Lummis

River House Publishing, New Orleans, LA 2010

 

Reviewed by Penne Laubenthal

 

B. Sammy Singleton, in a manner that recalls the opening lines of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, introduces himself in the first line of the The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans with a single revelatory sentence that is the key to his character:  "Sitting in CC's all by myself, as long as you don't count the other people, sipping a double cap I don't want ever to end and committed to getting started on this book (okay guidebook) with no further ado."

 

Sammy has been given a generous advance by his publisher (Winnie Hargreaves of Lucky Dog Press) to write a guidebook to the coffee houses of New Orleans. The obvious distinction between Huckleberry Finn and B. Sammy Singleton is that Huck is 14 and Sammy is 45; however, neither of them has previously undertaken the writing of a book and Sammy is finding the task particularly onerous. Just as Huck Finn declares at the conclusion of Twain's novel "if I had knowed what a trouble it was to make a book, I wouldn't a tackled it," Sammy is wishing he had not already spent his first advance as now, like it or not, he must produce.

 

Another similarity between Huck and Sammy is that, despite the vast difference in their ages and the space of more than a century between them, both Huck and Sammy find themselves forced to confront a world where injustice, particularly racial injustice, abounds and both characters discover, as Huck Finn observes, "Human beings can be mighty cruel to one another."

 

Sammy, ten years sober when the book begins, has fled his life in the city of New York some six years before and taken refuge in New Orleans where he plans on losing himself. Once addicted to alcohol, Sammy is now addicted to coffee, double cappuccinos to be exact. He is a fixture in all the coffee shops of the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny. However, Sammy frequents the coffee shops not, as the great lexicographer Samuel Johnson did, in order to engage society but to escape it. Due to his "anorexic social skills," Sammy seeks peace and solitude in the coffee shops (note he calls them coffee shops not coffee houses—for Sammy there is a clear difference) where he can indulge his natural proclivity towards isolation, but isolation is not to be Sammy's fate.

 

The Coffee Shop Chronicles begins on the morning of August 16, 2005, and, with the exception of a three chapter flashback (Chapters 9-11) to 1998, the year Sammy arrived in the Big Easy, concludes in the wee hours of the morning on August 26, 2005—just three days before Hurricane Katrina. Sammy, a compulsive journaler, begins the journal in an effort to discipline himself and organize his thoughts about the book he is supposed to be writing. It is within the pages of this journal that the novel takes place. What begins for Sammy as a self-indulgent and somewhat haphazard effort to structure his life metamorphoses into a journey into history and subsequently deep into himself.

 

When the novel or rather journal begins, Sammy has just been through a harrowing experience that he desperately wants to put behind him. His best friend Catfish, reluctant heir to the Beaucouer sugarcane fortune, has been arrested for “grave robbing”—an outlandish charge as Catfish could afford to buy several graveyards and is not even interested in possessions but rather in making restitution for having inherited a tainted fortune.  Even so, Catfish has just spent the weekend in jail, and after picking him up (the day before the narration begins) Sammy is determined to wrest his life back to normalcy by throwing himself into the book.  This is not to be, however, because as he gradually comes to realize over the course of the next few days, Catfish is gone.

 

In quest of Catfish, Sammy (much like James Joyce's Leopold Bloom in Dublin) wanders the streets of New Orleans from the Faubourg Tremé to the river's edge. During his strange odyssey, Sammy encounters the diverse and unorthodox characters that populate the novel. These characters, vividly drawn,convincingly portrayed, and as exotic and complex as a savory jambalaya, find their way into our hearts.

 

Sammy, who is given to taking other people's inventory (a big no-no in AA), desperately wants to do the right thing.  He knows he has been less than a good friend to Catfish, who befriended him when he first came to New Orleans, but he just cannot seem, despite self-recrimination and resolutions to reform, to do right by him. Although Sammy embraces and celebrates the diversity of the city that shelters him and has no problem with his own sexual orientation, he does have a problem with Sammy—who just keeps on running away.

 

When Catfish disappears, Sammy is forced to look at his own life and he is not pleased with what he sees. As he becomes increasingly determined to track down his friend, he is catapulted into the dark and bloodstained past of Catfish’s slave-holding forbears and his life is forever changed. He discovers that he, too, must bear responsibility for what Catfish refers to as "the American Holocaust"  He also finds himself with no choice but to consider the grim possibility that "on more than one occasion in Catfish’s past, it was in the very process of trying to unravel himself from that infinitely malignant thread that, in that form of despair most desperate, he alternately wove it into a noose." 

 

What this discovery will mean for Sammy and what has become of Catfish Beaucoeur will not emerge until Parts 2 and 3 of The Coffee Shop Chronicles are released. The entirety of Part 2 takes on a single day (Friday August 26), whereas Part 3 unfolds over a two-month period in Paducah, KY (Lummis’ own hometown), where Sammy and his housemates reside during their post-hurricane exile from New Orleans.These subsequent parts of the serial novel will be released in the fall and winter of this year, respectively.

 

David Lummis is a lively storyteller (and by extension so is Sammy) and Chronicles is liberally dusted, like one of the beignets at Café du Monde that Sammy so adores, with Sammy's wry and witty observations and delightful digressions on such topics as children (why not to have them—think W. C. Fields), Starbucks Coffee (which he likes), Martha Stewart (whom he also likes and credits, along with Starbucks, with making “our collective American life immeasurably better”), as well as the crisis of confronting midlife (which he hates).

 

One of the funniest passages in the novel, or at least one with which I totally identified, is the second paragraph of Chapter 2 "I'm Not Saying I'd Fall Apart."  Here Sammy says that the big 4-0 " blindsided him completely” and that "Taking the cue like a Nazi soldier my body immediately began to fall apart, behaving like a stranger who for no apparent reason had it in for me.  Minor aches and pains once barely noticeable or easily dismissed were now each a painful foreshadowing of a future full of far greater corporeal woes, most of them undiagnosable and impervious to bulk orders of highly toxic prescription medications."

 

Lummis' novel took me back a couple of decades to another first novel that is one of my all time favorites and is also set in New Orleans—A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The protagonists of each book,  B. Sammy Singleton and Ignatius J. Riley, share a sense of indignation at the injustices of the world, but there is a huge difference between them. Sammy has a powerful conscience. Ignatius J. Riley has none.

 

While reading Chronicles I was also reminded of Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. Altamont (Asheville, NC) is not New Orleans and Eugene Gant is not B. Sammy Singleton, but both characters are possessed of a common disillusionment and an urge to make things right in the world. Ironically, You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe is one of the books Sammy finds in Catfish's abandoned library with the long passage which begins "I believe we are lost here in America" underlined.

 

Like most first novels, Chronicles is quasi-autobiographical, a fact Lummis readily acknowledges. The history and the places are real, only the characters are imaginary. In addition to the colorful characters that populate the book, the city herself emerges as a character, as does River House, a beautifully restored Creole-plantation-style home in the Marigny district where Lummis lives with his life partner Csaba Lukacs. Lummis's tenderand affectionate descriptions of New Orleans, his "Paris of the South,"  evoke  Pat Conroy's lush and loving portrayal of coastal South Carolina. Just as Conroy's South of Broad is a paean to Charleston. so  is Lummis's Chronicles a love song to New Orleans. Alternately funny, painful, entertaining, and always unflinchingly honest, The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans is a must read.

 

A 21st century Leopold—not Joyce's Leopold Bloom or Conroy's Leopold Bloom King but the Leopold of the 2001 movie, Kate and Leopold—once said "...without the culinary arts, the crudeness of reality would be unbearable" (a variation on a statement by G.B. Shaw about the necessity of art).  In yet another version, B. Sammy Singleton might say "without a double cappuccino the crudeness of reality would be unbearable."

 

So, order this book, head to your favorite neighborhood coffee shop, order up a double cap, kick back, and enjoy the ride.

 

related tags

Lore,
Discourse,
Alabama,
Kentucky,
Louisiana,
New Orleans,
River,
Coastal,
Mountain,
Urban,
RiverVue,

Comments

feifei says...

When buying cheap eyeglasses, some people may care little about the times, seasons or even the accuracy of the lenses, they are just more inclined to fashion trend in the field, that’s the reason why so many young people love to wear glasses frames only without any lenses yankees jersey Bears jersey BMW GT1 Benz star BMW OPS wheel alignment auto keys Nissan diagnostic tool ball valve our company is managing in all kinds of AR GLASS and cover lens items,espicially the AR GLASS is our major product The AR GLASS and the the item we have absolutely meet your requirements,and your collection of DVD movies feiduguo Basin faucet Embroidery digitizing valve ball UF membrane Bridal wear auckland wedding dress auckland shower filter packing machine Bathroom faucet Kitchen faucet Shower faucetShower faucet monoammonium phosphate Shop for monoammonium phosphate .

nicecoach says...

coach outlet coach outlet coach discount coach discount gucci sneakers gucci sneakers gucci outlet gucci outlet coach clearance coach clearance Coach Handbags Coach Handbags Gucci Trousers Gucci Trousers gucci sunglasses gucci sunglasses Gucci Clothing Gucci Clothing

aa2050 says...

As I write this post—longhandOffice 2010in a spiral notebook—I’m 20,000 feet above eastern Washington, having Microsoft Office 2010just crossed above the Cascades on my return flight Microsoft wordto Chicago. I visited Seattle for the weekend to Office 2007and I have known each other for 20 years now. They Microsoft Officehad a lovely ceremony, and the trip in general was fantastic.Microsoft Office 2007In the 13 years since I left Seattle, I’ve Office 2007 keyvisited six or seven times, and I always return to wherever has Office 2007 downloadOffice 2007 Professionalbecome home with mixed feelings about the place. It Outlook 2010both alarms and pleases me to see howMicrosoft outlookthat once-familiar areas seem almost foreign. ForMicrosoft outlook 2010neighborhoods have changed, to the point Windows 7 as have cookie-cutter, here-today-and-gone-tomorrow nightclubs that cater to the shiny shirt crowd.

says...

Christopher Lasch, a keen critic of Theodore Roosevelt’s stock market todaybrand of imperial adventurism,mortgage calculator astutely dubbed itmortgage payment calculator “the moral and intellectual rehabilitation of the ruling class”—and that is very plainly what Brooks had in mind in his bid to marshal the home-happy Bobo elite into a gauzy ethos of national service.mortgage calculator with taxes

lanting33 says...

Do you know nike store,if you do not know, you can go to the nike shoes.there will be some surprised waiting for you ,and in nike outlet store you will find nike outlet which is your like. The abercrombie and fitch are popular with many young people, such as abercrombie and fitch uk , abercrombie and fitch london and so on. Recently, the louis vuitton handbags are popular in many young people, it lead the fashionable Also the tiffany public the style to meet the people need, please do not miss it. The Christmas is coming, the adidas outlet has ushered discount, if you are tempted, please do not hesitate.

says...

asics running shoes are one of the most sexy asics shoes.behind this asics onitsuka tiger there are some basketwork which advance the cheap asics shoes brightness.romeovable and replaceable comfort system insole is made of sheepskin latex and foam for comfort with a mylar sockiliner for warmth. Everywhere you go now you find that the cheap asics running shoes have become the latest fashion trend.Many humans buy asics onitsuka tiger day in and day out.asics running shoe

says...

asics running shoes are one of the most sexy asics shoes.behind this asics onitsuka tiger there are some basketwork which advance the cheap asics shoes brightness.romeovable and replaceable comfort system insole is made of sheepskin latex and foam for comfort with a mylar sockiliner for warmth. Everywhere you go now you find that the cheap asics running shoes have become the latest fashion trend.Many humans buy asics onitsuka tiger day in and day out.asics running shoe

gucci456 says...

The men like Gucci shoes very much,and they like to gucci outlet shop to buy cheap Gucci shoes .

mbt shoe says...

MBT Amali is the New Style of shoes in our line store. We will help you the MBT Shoes Clearance fast. MBT Amali Shoes are in the discount price.

mbt shoe says...

MBT Wingu is the new arrival in our MBT Shoes Sale. The Style of the MBT Wingu Shoes are popular in the young. Hope you can taking care for the shoes.

kokowowoman says...

A ugg boots clearance recent survey found that one out of five Americans teenage or older want an iPad. No wonder Apple is selling three million iPads a month. It's the fastest-selling single product in the history of consumer electronics. Most buyers are choosing an iPad as a supplement to their current computers -- for watching movies in bed, like I do, or reading books in my easy chair when there's nothing good on TV ugg boots clearance. The iPad pretty much has the personal side of computing covered. But what about the computer side? What about the tasks you do on your laptop or on your desktop computer ugg boots clearance? But I'm convinced that many of you would find the iPad a delightful replacement for a typical laptop computer, whether a Windows PC or Mac, if you mostly use a laptop for three typical functions -- e-mail, social networking (through Facebook, for example) and Web browsing ugg boots clearance. What about occasional word processing? Apple's word processor, called Pages, is outstanding on the iPad. (A bonus: It also works easily with Microsoft Word documents, both reading them and saving them.) If you need software that can show and create PowerPoint presentations, iPad software called Keynote can do that nicely. There's even an Excel-compatible program called Numbers ugg boots clearance. All three of these productivity programs -- called apps -- sell for only $10 each. Getting something equivalent to Microsoft Office for only $30 is surely a steal ugg boots clearance. There are many, either free or a couple of dollars, at the App Store ugg boots outlet. Could an iPad be your only computer? Not for long. It gets updates via free software called iTunes running on a standard computer. When you plug the iPad into the computer using a USB cable, iTunes transfers the updates to your iPad ugg boots outlet. (iTunes is also used to add music, books, podcasts, university lectures, TV shows and movies to an iPad.) But if my experience is a guide, the iPad can function well as a replacement for a laptop. If you buy one, be sure to get the Keyboard Dock and the Camera Connection Kit. Photos look spectacular on the 10-inch screen ugg boots clearance.

louboutin says...

christian louboutin christian louboutin christian louboutin sale christian louboutin sale cheap christian louboutin cheap christian louboutin Christian louboutin outlet Christian louboutin outlet christian louboutin online christian louboutin online christian louboutin shop christian louboutin shop christian louboutin store christian louboutin store christian louboutin shoes christian louboutin shoes christian louboutin boots christian louboutin boots Christian Louboutin Pumps Christian Louboutin Pumps Christian Louboutin Sandals Christian Louboutin Sandals christian louboutin peep toe christian louboutin peep toe christian louboutin glitter christian louboutin glitter christian louboutin wedge shoes christian louboutin wedge shoes christian louboutin wedge espadrille shoes christian louboutin wedge espadrille shoes christian louboutin gold glitter pumps christian louboutin gold glitter pumps christian louboutin glitter peep-toe pump christian louboutin glitter peep-toe pump

gaolin says...

to take your vacation

cartier love ring vacation days from work into consideration and discount burberry shoes and check with the human resources department エルメス イヤリング department at your workplace to see how fake cartier roadster how many days you have accrued. Consider replica cartier watch Consider Regional Possibilities: If taking an extended

gucci ネックレス extended honeymoon of

uggbailey says...

Start you warm life from UGG Boots Bailey Button,tell you a good news, UGG Boots Bailey Button sale very hot in 2010 wither,and you can buy Cheap ugg Boots Bailey Button online.

luomao says...

The team at the Lovely Lingerie Company are wholesale lingerie always looking to wholesale corset add to our ranges in order that we always have something new to sexy underwear offer you in our store. We also like to keep abreast of fashion trends amongst the ladies and work closely with our suppliers all over the world to sexy lingerie bring you the best in sexy lingerie, underwear and hosiery clothing. Shopping should be an enjoyable experience and we at the Lovely Lingerie Company hope you enjoy shopping with us and hope that you will want to come back again and again.

says...

Your articles are really great, and look forward to your better work. tiffany jewellery have distinguished reputation of elegance, so tiffany uk naturally become ladies essential goods, tiffany engagement rings | tiffany bracelet | charm bracelets opening is far-reaching event in the history, We love the mbt shoes give us the feeling of comfort and joy like nike shoes give the general feeling of flying, and five finger shoes is full of legendary fashion fad in the world wind.

newgucci says...

We can not only gucci shoes from gucci outlet,but also we can buy gucci shoes from gucci outlet online .

Katalin Lukács says...

I can't wait to read this book!

says...

WOW! I went to the swampland link and your review came up instantly! Facebook is probably too crowded today! I love it and yes, I love the book but am reading it slowly as it deserves to be read! Thanks for giving your time to create an excellent review! And very helpful as I read the book. Thanks to David as well.

Steve Dan Sprinkle says...

A great review that does its subject justice.

Please login or you can to leave a comment.

If you aren't registered, Register Now to start leaving comments.

Copyright 1998-2009 by Swampland Inc. All rights reserved.