THE FLOAT­ING WORLD

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Debut Fiction - MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER

C. Mor­gan Babst, Al­go­nquin (OC­TO­BER), Hard­cover $26.95 (384pp), 978-1-61620-528-7 Bru­tal hon­esty wins out over ar­ti­fice in this story of the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. Some­times, de­spite the best prepa­ra­tions we make: lev­ees break, de­fenses fall. Such vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties are an over­ar­ch­ing theme of C. Mor­gan Babst’s cap­ti­vat­ing The Float­ing World, a novel set in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina that, through one fam­ily, ex­am­ines just how much that no­to­ri­ous storm man­aged to wash away.

The book’s be­gin­ning is bru­tal, cap­tur­ing the phys­i­cal dev­as­ta­tion and the hu­man car­nage of the storm. Cora, the el­dest Bois­doré daugh­ter, is the novel’s cen­ter­ing force: a woman who feels too much, she is the least suited among her clan to re­main in the city and weather the storm. But stay she does, bat­ten­ing down, then row­ing out—and see­ing too much.

When her con­cerned par­ents—joe, a Cre­ole artist, and Tess, the re­bel­lious daugh­ter of an old-money fam­ily—re­turn, they find her safe, but changed. Their ef­forts to re­gain what was lost throw the fam­ily into a tail­spin.

Cora’s fiery sis­ter Del aban­dons her life in New York to reen­twine her­self with her fam­ily and her city—a place ne­glected by the na­tional pow­ers-that-be, Del is cer­tain, be­cause its im­age, like hers, is associated with black­ness. As the Bois­dorés sift through the wreck­age of their care­fully con­structed, out­wardly gilded life, they’re forced to reeval­u­ate their no­tions of self: what is ac­tu­ally worth sav­ing? What is real? What is last­ing?

The novel’s rev­e­la­tions aren’t al­ways happy ones. Bru­tal hon­esty wins out over ar­ti­fice as the fam­ily mem­bers nav­i­gate their changed land­scapes, con­fronting anew is­sues from racism to be­long­ing to the ne­ces­sity of se­cur­ing a per­son­ally sus­tain­ing trade. Babst’s is a flawed but au­then­tic cast: some char­ac­ters main­tain grudges force­fully, some be­tray their loved ones, some have se­crets that they’re drown­ing in. Fol­low­ing them as they bat­tle their way to­ward solid foot­ing—if of­ten on un­fa­mil­iar grounds—is thor­oughly en­gag­ing.

The Float­ing World is in­tel­li­gent and pen­e­trat­ing as it takes on a tragedy that, over a decade past the fact, Amer­i­cans are still grap­pling to com­pre­hend.

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