Author: Brita Addams
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 5 stars
Type: Novel in a Series
Received from Author
Blurb: Born to a spiteful prostitute in Storyville, the red-light district in New Orleans, David comes into the world as Picayune, meaning “of little value,” or, as his mother reminds him, “nothing.” In the early 20th century brothels and clubs, his love of music sustains young Pic until a life-changing meeting places him on the road to respectability, and Pic reinvents himself as David Reid.
As David realizes happiness for the first time, conscription forces his friend and first love, Spencer Webb, into the Great War. While he pursues a law degree, letters from Spence connect David to his hopes for the future. After staggering news at war’s end, David must find a way to move forward. Under the tutelage of his benefactor, David’s career prospers, but specters from Storyville threaten all he’s worked so hard to achieve.
The past holds both pain and love. Will facing it head-on destroy David or give him everything he’s ever dared dream?
Review: Note: While this book is part of a series set in early 1900s America, it can be completely enjoyed as a standalone.
Good thing I picked a day to start this book when I knew I could enjoy uninterrupted reading time. I didn’t simply read this amazing story, I lived it. Displaying her supreme talent at writing historic fiction – my favorite sub-genre – Brita Addams has graced us with a moving and graphic novel depicting life in a colorful segment of early twentieth century New Orleans. This book’s setting – the infamous Storyville district – comes to life as a main character in itself.
Storyville, New Orleans: The book includes a nice foreword detailing the history of this fascinating region and period. For 20 years the district thrived as an established center for prostitution – and pretty much anything one could want. This was allowed to help regulate and contain such establishments, but was rather quickly shut down when the U.S. entered WWI, due to Storyville’s proximity to a military base. Addams’ obvious and excellent research of the period unfurled beautifully on page, and provided fascinating details of the district’s rich culture. Music, photography, art, sex, booze. Excess, joy, abandon, creativity, strife and pain. I was completely immersed in this time and place while reading.
Pic/David – Oh, I had such immediate, protective feelings for him! Pic was born and raised in a Storyville brothel. His mother – Sapphire – a wretched woman who worked as a prostitute saw him as nothing but an inconvenience and weight around her neck. So much so, she named him Picayune –which means “worthless”. Nice, real nice – only, not. The scenes depicting Pic’s childhood were difficult to read, I cringed and spat many epithets at Sapphire and others! Pic was a very strong young man though. He took his life by the horns and sought a way to a respectable life, the life he wanted away from Storyville- away from Sapphire. His life wasn’t all bad though, he was well thought of by others, and enjoyed an extended “family” which included some good people in the big brothel house and throughout Storyville. He could depend on them for friendship, culture, learning and…a private sex life of his own. As Pic moved through, lived and worked in the streets, shops and barrooms, I was transported to them by the vivid writing. Sights, sounds, and smells were brought to life. Before Pic managed to actually get out of Storyville, an employer suggested he change his name to David. David = “Beloved”. Perfect!
Spencer – Beautiful, brash, enigmatic sex worker Spence. He was a male prostitute who serviced.. men. I wasn’t sure what his game was at first, especially regarding Pic. Spence oozed lots of attitude, lots of talk, lots of walk, but was hiding a lot of hurt too. Spence and Pic had engaged in a sexual relationship for quite some time, a seemingly casual one about which Spence acted quite cavalier, playing with Pic a bit. But, this arrangement provided Pic with an outlet for sex, and Spence with a friend with benefits. In the confines of Storyville, Pic and Spence didn’t have to worry about acting on their attraction to other men. Pic was several years younger than Spence, and Spence coveted tutoring Pic when it came to sex. I believe he always coveted him beyond the physical act. Indeed, Spence was elated when Pic, now called David, was able to move away from Storyville to pursue a better future. The specific image of Spence lolling on his window ledge with a cigarette and calling for Pic to come upstairs is something I will always be able to conjure up thanks to the evocative quality of writing.
Emile – Yes, we have a third main character! Emile is introduced as a client of Spence’s. He’s a very attractive, very successful lawyer, whom Pic has crossed paths with at Spence’s rooms. One day Spence arranges for Pic to join in a sex session with Emile – whom he knew would take good care of Pic. This was a very intense and heated scene involving all three men. Emile was doing the work, Spence guiding the proceedings and soothing Pic, and Pic enjoying the sensations. At the time, the sex was fairly perfunctory to the characters, a way to pass the time, to blow off frustrations, to find release. However, the scene turned out to be pivotal, and much more meaningful over the long haul. I found Emile to be quite interesting, quite mysterious. What was his larger role to be in this story?
Well, when Pic was able to emerge from Storyville as “David”, it was with Emile as his benefactor. Theirs was not a sexual relationship. Emile truly admired David’s ambition and wished to provide him a home help him achieve his further education. Emile was harboring issues of his own, one being that he was willing to bypass his inner desires, in order to pursue social status. This dismayed David greatly, he ached for a deeper relationship with Emile, and thought Emile on a collision course for disaster with his plans. When the US became involved in WWI, Storyville was dissolved, and conscription was put in place. Spencer was old enough for the draft. Imagine the colorful, gentle, shining Spence going off to war. The thought of it made David and Emile pale and quake for him, and I was sharing those emotions with them.
Despite all the references – and importance – given to sex early in the story, there is very little on page in the book. This is the story of how David pursued his happiness, how he dealt with his sorrows and his victories along the way. How much would he change, be forced to change as the world around him was racked by war and ruin on one hand, by sensational greed and vengeance on the other. The interpersonal relationships between not just the main characters but several secondary ones are rich and meaningful. I constantly marveled at and appreciated the brilliant writing. While I guessed at a few outcomes, I was extremely invested in having to know how things were going to play out. Who would end up with whom? What would become of everyone’s best laid plans? What secrets would be revealed? I cared for these characters beyond distraction.
Steeped in vivid detail against the backdrop of New Orleans at a dynamic and difficult time in history, this is a riveting story about overcoming hardships in life, of placing trust, of building relationships, of letting go, and of holding on to love with all one’s might.
Highly recommended. I’m looking forward to the next story featuring… well, I won’t say who…. 😉