It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test. ---GoodreadsIt is surprising how often it happens. I start two books at approximately the same time, not knowing much about either, and discover that the books have a lot in common. Sometimes even too much in common so that I spend a bit of time comparing them as I read along. Sometimes I even get the two plots twisted up together. That is what happened this month with Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. I started reading it just days after I started listening to A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Both books are set in New Orleans. Both are set in earlier decades, Out of the Easy in the early 1950s, Dunces in the late 1960s. A large portion of each book is set in the French Quarter with multiple references to prominent street names, etc. I couldn't help myself from the comparing the two novels and unfortunately for Out of the Easy I found it wanting.
Let me tell you first what I liked about Out of the Easy. Josie, is a very independent daughter of a local prostitute, stands up for herself and has a plan for the future that doesn't involve the lifestyle her mother is involved in. She wants to go to college and she wants out of New Orleans. She has wonderful friends who look after her and help her out as she attempts to make these dreams come true. Then there is a murder and Josie gets involved because she is one of the last people to talk to the man before his death, and her mother seems to be involved somehow. Will Josie be trapped by circumstances beyond her own making? The storyline and the characters are interesting and they kept me, the reader, moving along in the book. I liked the story and won't have any trouble recommending this book to my students to read.
In comparison to Dunces, however, I started taking issue with some aspects of Out of the Easy. For one thing Dunces does a brilliant job with the very unique New Orleans accent. It is a very colorful accent flavored with Creole, French, and Caribbean influences. Sepetys may have thrown in a few French words but not enough for the reader to experience the uniqueness of the language of New Orleans. To be fair, Dunces did win a Pulitzer prize in large part because Toole nailed the dialect so well.
Out of the Easy took place in 1950 yet it could easily have been set in the 1960s, 1970s, or even 1980s for how few references it made to that decade. One song was mentioned that was popular in that day, the author Truman Capote was referenced, and a few mentions were made to the impending Korean conflict letting the reader know the time frame of the book, but that was about it. It was pretty disappointing. In my opinion when an author sets a book in an earlier decade he/she has the responsibility to take the reader to that time and place with plenty of pop-culture references to that time period. Dunces wasn't written as a period piece. Toole wrote it in the 1960s as a modern day piece.
In other aspects, the two books have few similarities. Out of the Easy is a murder mystery with serious characters and scenes. Dunces has a farcical plot with zany characters that all get tangled up together in unusual and hilarious ways. I'll be writing my review for A Confederacy of Dunces later this week so come back to this blog soon.
Though I take issue with these two aspects of Out of the Easy, I honestly liked the book and hope that you will want to read it. I sincerely think if I hadn't read the two books at the same time that I would have liked Out of the Easy more than I did. I know that it isn't fair and makes me seem like a biased person but I suspect that all of us are influenced by our juxtapositions to other things more than we are willing to admit. Hey, my best advice---read them both, just not at the same time!
30 books this Summer Reading Challenge
27 / 30 books. 90% done!