Grimsley, Jim. “Boulevard”, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2002.
Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?
I am a sucker for books about New Orleans and I am a double sucker for gay books about New Orleans. Feeling melancholy last night, I picked up a copy of Jim Grimsley’s “Boulevard” and reread it and I enjoyed it as much as the first time.
The novel takes place in New Orleans in 1976 and Newell, full of naiveté, being from the country, moves to the Big Easy. We come to know the various characters he meets after his arrival, Here is a New Orleans that was and probably will never be again. Newell arrives with little cash so that he can live until he finds a job and it is innocence and boyish charm that helps him to land a job first as a bus boy and then as a clerk in a porno store. It is the job at the porno store that gives him the chance to thrive and meet some unforgettable characters. And characters they are—the kind you love and the kind you hate, they make you laugh and they make you cry and they are the core of the book. Grimsley’s great ability to create characters pushes our hero, Newel, to the sidelines and we get a good in-depth look at the colorful residents of the French Quarter. Through the characters we get a picture of life in New Orleans that many never get to know.
You can’t help but love Newell and his sense of courage and challenge—he is daring and intriguing, mysterious and in-your-face at the same time.
The storyline is not new—boy comes to new town, the wicked city, become adapted to it and is swallowed up and victimized by his new friends. As Newell is on his way to becoming “fresh meat”, Grimsley paints a picture of the ambience of New Orleans and the abandonment of care in the pre-AIDS era.
The writing is elegant and Grimsley’s wonderful portrait of New Orleans evokes the city beautifully—the tastes, the sights, the souds and even the smells are vivid. Grimsley knows how to construct a sentence and does so with great skill and he is especially good at writing about relationships. The book will touch you emotionally and what is has to say will haunt you long after you close the covers.
I have not really missed New Orleans since Katrina brought me to Little Rock but rereading “Boulevard” gave me a great sense of nostalgia about the Crescent City.