I recently spent a few days in San Francisco, that setting of countless novels, stories, mysteries, TV shows and movies. Walking San Francisco's streets, one imagines detectives in trenchcoats and fedoras looking for clues, men and women headed for shady assignations, the Beats shuffling toward the dawn of a long, dark night. In San Francisco, every corner, every face, is a poem or a story.
Back home in Atlanta, I found myself immersed into a novel set in another great Romantic literary city, New Orleans. I'd first heard of novelist Josh Russell when he was interviewed on "The Bob Edwards Show," in which he talked about his historical novels set in New Orleans. On a trip to New York, I found Russell's "My Bright Midnight" at St. Mark's bookshop. A month or so later, I've finished the book.
Set in New Orleans at the end of World War II, the novel written in first person tells of the travails of Walter Schmidt, a German immigrant. New Orleans comes alive vividly, and I felt nostalgia for that time when the city remained vibrant with a strong local economy of small homebrown businesses and a thriving population.
The book mixes elements of film noir and the hard-bitten terse style of writers like James Cain. It also reaches moments of heart-piercing beauty, described in lovely lyrical language. At the end, the plot left me unfulfilled. The ending felt gratuitous, inadequately resolving the plot elements.
At times, the lurid themes of violence and illicit love reminded me of Faulkner's "The Wild Palms," and the recognition that Faulkner's book is superior. However, Russell's talent with language and ability to conceive strong characters and situations were impressive, although his control of his material faltered at the finish. "My Bright Midnight" is another vital work in LSU Press' Yellow Shoe Fiction series.