cover image When It Burned to the Ground

When It Burned to the Ground

Yolanda Barnes, . . Sarabande, $14.95 (213pp) ISBN 978-1-932511-18-5

An L.A. on the verge of complete disintegration—Piedmont Street circa the 1992 riots—inspires a set of stark meditations on a blighted, once promising cityscape. Brief slices of life and depictions of landscape (ruminations on the bird of paradise, a description of the local cemetery, etc.) alternate with longer, more developed chapters centered on people. For many years, over sultry summers, a wayward man finds his calling as a street preacher; a music teacher in dire financial straits pawns a family heirloom in hopes of temporary sustenance; a shrewd, ruthless seamstress becomes the target of superstition and rumor. Although Barnes is a gifted storyteller and navigates her terrain of black urban decay with artful precision, the book doesn't venture far past paradigmatic themes of paradise lost, heartache and loss, and imminent destruction; repeated images of fire, metaphors for the Fall and emotionally one-dimensional neighborhood characters grate. But all serve as a solid medium for Barnes's ornate, flowing prose and for Piedmont Street to reveal itself through the sum of its parts. Agent, Nancy Green Madia . (Aug. 1)