"Vividly rendered…haunting…[Paula Fox] writes with silken ease and a sensitivity to nuance." —Newsday
In 1941, twenty-three-year-old Helen Bynum leaves home for the first time and sets out from rural New York to find her Aunt Lulu, an aging actress in New Orleans. There she finds a life of passion and adventure, possibilities and choices. Falling in with a bohemian group of intellectuals, she discovers romance and sex, friendship and risk, her world mirrored by the steamy mystery of the French Quarter.
Fox's prose flows as clearly and gracefully as clear water in a stream--but there is a dark current underneath: ``the implacable forces of time and loss.'' From a hardscrabble existence with her relentlessly cheerful mother in rural upstate New York, narrator Helen Bynum goes to New Orleans in search of her aunt, a former Ziegfeld girl and has-been actress. Aunt Lulu proves to be an irascible alcoholic, but Helen stays on in the warm-scented, langorous city, so different from the gray, frozen atmosphere of Poughkeepsie. Here Helen feels free for the first time to pursue the potentials of her own life. Enveloped in the affection of her new friends--her landlord, a poet, and his mistress; a seductive young man with silver hair who is the son of a rabbi and with whom she falls in love; another woman from the North who becomes her best friend; an elegant homosexual of Creole descent--Helen at first feels safe and contented. But as she gradually becomes aware of the imminence of WW II in Europe, the injustice of race relations in the South and the dark secrets in her friends' lives, she is suffused with apprehension about ``the black wall of death'' that seems to loom everywhere. In a poignant chapter set years later, Helen finally realizes the implications of those long-ago events. Fox ( A Servant's Tale ) is a highly gifted writer whose insightful novels resonate with subtle truths.