cover image Voodoo Dreams: A Novel of Marie Laveau

Voodoo Dreams: A Novel of Marie Laveau

Jewell Parker Rhodes. St. Martin's Press, $22.95 (436pp) ISBN 978-0-312-09869-8

NEA Fiction Award-winner Rhodes introduces a fearsome heroine and comments on the slave trade in an astute, evocative first novel based on the life of an actual voodoo priestess. From the age of 10, Creole girl Marie Laveau has visions of voodoo rites, yet her grandmother, who raised her, refuses to explain these supernatural occurrences. ``Grandmere'' wants to protect Marie, whose maternal lineage includes many dangerous voodoo queens, but her secretiveness only makes the girl resentful and curious. When they move from their secluded country home to New Orleans in 1819, Marie fulfills her destiny, forsaking her kindly husband on their wedding night to conduct ceremonies in which she's possessed by her dead mother's ghost and by the god Damballah. Rhodes eschews literary aspirations in favor of steamy, violent interludes worthy of a bodice-ripper--an abolitionist who loves Marie from afar, an incestuous relationship between aristocratic twins--but her insightfulness about black heritage, antebellum history and gender roles raises the tale well above the norm. Melodramatic yet mesmerizing, it effectively synthesizes the twin themes of female and African American empowerment. (Oct.)