By Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Stories of New Orleans, Everything But Disappear

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But the city that Ruffin describes is characterized by community rather than violence, its adaptability in the face of ongoing change. “Ghetto University” buzzes with the purple-tinged chirping of its narrator: “A two advanced Black men who once taught at the Sorbonne, shaking hands with Noam Chomsky and Shirin Ebadi, preferring Enya to Kanye West. He would never willingly watch a Tyler Perry movie robbing tourists in the French Quarter to pay off his debts”. Not sure how to properly scare his victims, he calls one “white” while drawing attention to his anachronism. “There’s no equivalent word for N-bomb when you try to offend Caucasians,” Ruffin writes, “if you don’t count the scariest name, my skin.” As we will eventually discover, the narrator’s wife, a chemist, also commits crimes to support their finances, and their conjugal love is renewed when they discover this commitment to support each other.

Ruffin writes with the clipped movement of the best comics and the unwavering precision of a poet. Readers who fall in love with the relentless lyricism of her novel may be surprised to find a softer voice that guides these stories without judgment. This softness is exactly what connects these patchwork chronicles to a living and real mosaic of a place. I’ve been disappointed at times when the lives of these characters have moved in the expected direction, but who can really resist the overpowering forces that are forcing our trajectories along their respective paths?

In the closing story, “Before I Leave,” a lifelong New Orleans native named Gailya tries to prevent the city from reclaiming the home that belonged to her grandmother, her mother, and now hers. Gailya’s neighborhood, Treme, is facing unstoppable gentrification, and she herself is weakly stretched out in the gig economy, renting a room for tourists and moonlighting as a rideshare and delivery driver between jobs that never seem to pay her the money she needs to dig herself up. debt. His life is conditioned for disappointment and he begins to expect it. A well-paid job opportunity turns into a fiasco; a lover turns out to be a mirage; a white boss turns out to be racist. But there’s also enough joy to repel the inner voice that says he should sell his home to greedy contractors and move to Atlanta.

When a group of deer-eyed and annoying white neighbors suggest calling the police for a nearby music teacher who’s playing a little too loud, she suddenly tells him that if the New Orleans he knows is slipping away, it’s up to him to hold on to what’s left. . “Gailya is staring into the faces of her new neighbors, many of whom are similar to people she has worked with at some point,” Ruffin writes. “He knows that if one of his old neighbors were here, they would understand. But he realizes he’s fallen for her. He always fell for her, and if he left, no one would understand anything. He’s right, the new neighbors don’t. How should they, or rather, why would they want to? worth preserving as long as the newer, more cruel world allows.

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