Sunday, September 11, 2011

Baby Cat-Face by Barry Gifford (1995)

I bought this copy of Baby Cat-Face by Barry Gifford (1995) right after I finished an omnibus collection of Gifford's seven Sailor and Lula novels and read that this one also had some Sailor and Lula in it, even though it wasn't included in the collection. The wonderful Sailor and Lula are indeed in this novel, but more as a side show than the main attraction, so I can see why Gifford and his publishers don't include this one with the rest of the Sailor and Lula canon. But never fear: Baby Cat-Face is just as wild and weird and funny and awesome as the Sailor and Lula novels -- in fact, it might even be weirder.

Baby Cat-Face is a woman who has a cat-like face and who was nicknamed "Baby" since she was the baby of the family. Her real name is Esquerita Reyna, and she ends up in New Orleans hooked up with Jimbo Deal. One night while Jimbo is at work, Baby goes down to the Evening in Seville Bar on Lesseps Street to have a drink (rum and oj, which the bartender calls a "Rat Tango, as in 'I don't need no rat to do no tango at my funeral'") and ends up witnessing a murder. This freaks her out so much that she catches the first bus to North Carolina to get away from things for awhile and visit her aunt.

Things quickly veer out of control when Baby's bus is hijacked by a woman named Daylight DuRapeau who forces the passengers to watch an interpretive dance / poem performance put on by DuRapeau's spiritual leader. Baby and the friends she meets on the bus are rescued by a deus ex machina in the form of teenage Sailor and Lula out for a joy ride while Lula's mama is out of town. But it's when Baby goes back to New Orleans, sanctifies herself, and joins Mother Bizco's Temple of the Few Washed Pure by her Blood that things start getting really weird.

I won't give much more of the plot away since, in true Gifford fashion, the plot is a bit of a chaotic roller coaster and the meat of the story is the characters, the names, the one-sentence back stories, and the dialogue. Anyone who liked Wild at Heart or the other Sailor and Lula stories, who likes Southern literature and greasy gritty New Orleans, or who just likes to have a tornado of messy creativity bowl them over, should check out Baby Cat-Face and the rest of Gifford's novels.

[Gifford is apparently also an extensively published poet and non-fiction writer. I might have to get me some of those as well...]

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