Belly Up in the Aftermath Lounge
- This month, Rheta discovers "Aftermath Lounge," a novel in stories by Margaret McMullan, a writer with Pass Christian roots.
I never thought I’d say these words: I’ve fallen in love with a new, fictional book about Katrina, Aftermath Lounge by Margaret McMullan, creative writing professor at the University of Evansville in Indiana.
When recently Barbara Reed at Pass Books told me there would be a lot of new Katrina books released in time for the tenth anniversary, I all but groaned. What’s left to say?
The beauty here is in the way Margaret says it. Ten short stories weave together to make a novel, or “a novel in stories.” And it’s a novel approach to what for some has become a tired topic, the tragedy called Katrina.
Across the Bridge
In 140 pages, in lyrical prose, this deft writer manages to describe life’s complications and complexities after the storm. It’s as if the reader has bellied up to the bar in the fictional Aftermath Lounge, listening to the sad stories of denizens, the karaoke caterwauling of survivors.
Margaret McMullan has roots in the Pass. Her father was a Mississippi native who at one point left the state, in part because of racial strife. But he loved Mississippi and eventually returned, buying a house on Scenic Drive in 1992. Even then, pre-Katrina, the place needed “tender loving care.”
Margaret would marry in the house, vacation every summer at the house, help with the renovation of the house and ask herself again and again, “Why am I leaving?”
There are many voices and perspectives in Aftermath Lounge, cutting across income and class lines, showing the true democratic nature of disaster. One sentence early in the book hooked me, made me know I’d read the whole book, quite possibly more than once:
“Norma had never thought much about why she lived where she lived just as she had not thought much about being with Sam all these years … not until now. But standing there, looking out Miss Betty’s window, Norma felt just then a vague sense of relief that at least she and Sam were not landlocked. At least here there was always something or at least the chance of something wonderful, terrible, or dangerous coming at them and it was up to them to see it through….”
That’s why I’m living on the Gulf Coast, I think. At least I’m not landlocked.
If you’ve ever read much at all, you might tremble at the foreshadowing. But the subtlety of her characters and place descriptions lends to the power of the narrative. She doesn’t beat us over the head with the two-by-four of wind and water. She doesn’t tell, she shows.
“It was tight quarters inside the trailer. There was the kitchen with its toy-sized plastic sink, a table with two attached seats, and then the bed in back, taking up almost half the space. Spread out on an empty flour sack on the kitchen counter was a sea of broken bits of blue and white china, and next to it a stack of glue-together plates….”
Margaret McMullan will be reading and signing her books at Pass Books on Friday, April 24, at 6 p.m. She has written six other novels and recently edited the collection Every Father’s Daughter, 24 Writers Remember Their Fathers.
Catch her if you can.
She writes original monthly essays for The Cleaver from her home across the bridge in Pass Christian where she spends roughly half of each year. The rest of the time she lives in Iuka, Miss., in an old farmhouse in a cold, dark hollow.