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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

LOUISIANA BREAKDOWN
By Lucius Shepard (Illustrations by J.K. Potter)
Golden Gryphon/ $21.95/ 145 pages
ISBN: 1930846142 (March 2003)

Cover Stories from Lucius Shepard were few and far between in 90s and he was sorely missed. His reappearance in the last few years is most welcomed. Along with a reprint of his 1988 World Fantasy-winning collection, The Jaguar Hunter (Four Walls Eight Windows), outstanding magazine fiction (the IHG Award-winning, Nebula-nominated "Crocodile Rock" from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), and anthology entries (like "Limbo" in The Dark), Shepard also currently has several stand-alone novellas available. Aztechs (Subterranean Press) revisits the cyberpunkish near-future world of his Nebula Award-winning story, "R&R" that later became part of novel Life During Wartime. Valentine (Four Walls Eight Windows) is a haunting "love letter." The noir Colonel Rutherford's Colt, available as an e-book and slated for print from Subterranean, offers a story-within-the-story with a historical slant. All three novellas display different aspects of Shepard's remarkable talents as a writer and all are worth reading. They are also all somewhat flawed by a sense of incompleteness.

Lousiana Breakdown, though, is complete. Almost Aristolean in its unity, the novella possesses the beauty of language, clearness of construction, and mythological inspiration that make great tragic drama. Any expansion of this little masterpiece would be nothing but bloat.

Weird's normal in the backwater town of Grail, Louisiana, and normal's not worth mentioning. There's a molasses-slow atmosphere -- lethargy, it is explained, would be considered upscale in Grail -- and a pervasive sense of the mystic. This is a place of Belief that preserves the endurance of the present and the illusion of the moment. A bargain's been long struck between something known as the Good Gray Man and the denizens of Grail, but that circuitous bargain is due for its periodic renewal -- and the appearance of an unwary stranger threatens it with breakdown.

Jack Mustaine, a songwriter/musician on the emotional run from the west coast, suffers an automotive breakdown in Grail on the eve of St. John's Eve. He falls almost instantly for the beautiful and strange Vida Dumars. As Grail's Midsummer Queen, Vida is the personified binding of the town's pact with and accommodation of the supernatural. But Vida recognizes that Jack is more than a man and represents her only chance to effect the final break between the town and its private demon. (Yes, there are several breakdowns here.)

But this is, remember, a tragedy. At the end an act of perfect self-destruction results in both the birth of poetry and the final breakdown of, well, perhaps everything. Grail, for all its abnormality and peculiarity is really just a microcosm of America. Shepard's authorial juju is potent stuff and Lousiana Breakdown casts a significant and powerful spell. -- (Review originally appeared in Cemetery Dance #45)

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.