Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - BOOK REVIEWS - by C. Mor­gan Babst { al­go­nquin Books } —dara mathis

We of­ten imag­ine the nar­ra­tive of storms like Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina as a sin­gle cat­a­strophic event. Per­haps it is true that there is more to ex­am­ine in the af­ter­math, the hap­haz­ard way tragedy re­ar­ranges us. Some­times the story buried in the de­tri­tus re­veals the dam­age that hap­pened long be­fore we knew what to call it.

C. Mor­gan Babst’s The Float­ing World un­flinch­ingly ex­am­ines the wreck­age of one New Or­leans fam­ily’s life in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. This vis­ceral de­but also pays close at­ten­tion to the per­sonal de­pres­sions that sent the Bois­doré fam­ily into a spi­ral. At first glance, the story is pre­oc­cu­pied with the fate of Cora Bois­doré, who chose not to heed the city’s manda­tory evac­u­a­tion. Cora’s par­ents, Tess and Joe, are try­ing to help their adult daugh­ter through a trauma she can­not name while nav­i­gat­ing their dam­aged mar­riage as they walk around the mag­no­lia tree lodged in the kitchen of their home. Each Bois­doré must de­cide which fa­mil­ial re­la­tion­ships to sal­vage from the rub­ble and which to sur­ren­der to the pre­ex­ist­ing rot. The fam­ily’s strug­gles be­come a metaphor for their beloved city.

Per­haps the most un­ex­pected jewel in

The Float­ing World was the au­thor’s com­pas­sion­ate de­pic­tion of men­tal ill­ness. Cora rep­re­sents the eye in the storm her fam­ily en­dures af­ter Ka­t­rina; we first en­counter her nearly cata­tonic, with her par­ents and sis­ter cir­cling her with worry. Her de­pres­sion and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der make her the qui­etest char­ac­ter in the book. De­spite her rel­a­tive si­lence, Cora is the one who speaks the loud­est about the courage it takes to seize your au­ton­omy with men­tal ill­ness. The Float­ing World of­fers fright­en­ingly real an­swers to ques­tions peo­ple sel­dom think to ask: What hap­pens if you have a men­tal-health cri­sis in the mid­dle of a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter?

More than just an ac­count of an em­bat­tled fam­ily fac­ing a storm, The Float­ing World shows us New Or­leans be­yond the magic of Mardi Gras. It is not the grotesque “N’awl­ins” of tourists’ con­struc­tion. In Babst’s hands, the Big Easy is a three-di­men­sional char­ac­ter in its own right whose na­tives some­times nav­i­gate race, class, and his­tory with dif­fi­culty. Through the af­flu­ent Bois­dorés, we see the var­i­ous wards of New Or­leans in heart­break­ing con­trast: the wealthy ones on higher ground and the poor ones sub­merged be­neath 10 feet of wa­ter. It’s clear why cer­tain neigh­bor­hoods filled with Black and Brown peo­ple bore the brunt of Ka­t­rina’s wrath. And in the novel’s fi­nal pages, Babst gives us a glimpse of the grow­ing New Or­lea­nian di­as­pora who stay away be­cause they have noth­ing left to re­build.

The novel’s de­scrip­tion of post-land­fall New Or­leans is in­ti­mate and pre­cise with­out veer­ing into trauma porn. The Float­ing World aches with loss as it de­picts the “bath­tub ring around the city” that Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina left be­hind. Like New Or­leans, the story is not easy to di­gest, but noth­ing so beau­ti­fully com­pli­cated should be. The city sits ever dig­ni­fied and asks that you sit with it with­out turn­ing away from the muddy parts. Some­times, as Babst deftly re­veals, a storm merely ex­ploits the fragility that al­ready ex­isted in the in­fra­struc­ture of a city, of a mar­riage, of a fam­ily, of a mind.

The Float­ing World aches with loss as it de­picts the “bath­tub ring around the city” that Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina left be­hind.


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