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BELLOCQ'S WOMEN

Peter Everett, Author
Peter Everett, Author . Jonathan Cape $27.50 (256p) ISBN 978-0-224-05988-6
Reviewed on: 05/07/2001
Release date: 08/01/2000
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-09-928919-7
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4464-1238-1
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Everett, author of critically acclaimed fictional reconstructions Matisse's War and The Voyages of Alfred Wallis, died in 1999, and his posthumously published last novel, also a remarkable reconstruction, is his grand finale. While we never know exactly how true-to-life this novelization of photographer E.J. Bellocq's life is, it rings pitch perfect. In 1912, Bellocq, a talented photographer, captured the women who worked in the brothels of Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans, in a series of images. Rediscovered in the 1950s, Bellocq's prints are well known, but the man behind the camera remains a mystery. Here, in crisp clean prose, with exacting attention to detail, Everett describes Bellocq's difficult life. His mother is unstable, and his father runs away to Mexico with another woman, an incident that leaves an indelible mark on the young Bellocq. As an adult, Bellocq is a sensitive loner who spends most of his life in the opium dens, barrooms, brothels and rooming houses of New Orleans, taking stark and often macabre photographs. Bellocq's strange relationships with several female prostitutes, including a 10-year-old child named Sylvie, cause him much heartbreak, as does the love of his life, his landlady's daughter, Miriam. The poignant, melancholic tone of the narrative is punctuated by moments of extreme beauty: "Lightning seared the sky with blue flashes; a bolting horse ran out of the dark and was gone as swiftly as an apparition." Though Everett's material is dark—most of the characters' lives are marked by poverty, alcoholism, violence and insanity, and descriptions of excrement, urine, STDs and vomit proliferate—this is an eminently readable novel with a haunting cinematic quality. (May 1)

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