New Orleans revolves around food. Volumes have been written on this city’s cuisine. Stories set in New Orleans would be incomplete without at least a nod to her rich food culture. And local author Moira Crone gives more than a nod to cajun and creole cuisine in her novel “The Not Yet.” Although the manufactured, uber-rich immortals in Crone’s tale eat only blandly-flavored wisps of nutrients, Crone showcases real food with a New Orleans flair.
A warning: you might start craving some local home cooking while reading. You’ll also wonder how the immortals can view with disgust the awesome food Crone describes. It is that wondering moment that reveals a greater depth to the narrative’s focus on food. Crone’s cuisine showcase facilitates a subtle exploration of mortality versus immortality, of living versus mere survival.
Don’t expect a smorgasbord right away, however. The first edible item Malcolm de Lazarus, the protagonist, imbibes is a revolting drink that cleans out his system. Later, he swallows weak tea while refusing fresh sashimi he clearly wants. Malcolm is a ‘not yet’, a mortal vying for immortal status. As a not yet, he’s been indoctrinated that solid food is disgusting, a vile necessity only for non-immortals.
Immortals abhor solid food. They never step foot in kitchens. They never speak the names of foods, of spices, of the ways of cooking – these things they have deliberately forgotten. They imbibe nutrients – just enough to continue existing. They do all this while flitting from entertainment to insubstantial entertainment, trying to reclaim mortal sensation in their immortal lives. Crone’s immortals are like the hungry ghosts of Chinese lore, lusting after lives they can no longer live.
Immortals may be averse to food, but mortals still need to eat. Despite the dissolution of the U.S., the passage of a century, and permanent flooding which has turned New Orleans into a series of islands, the old city’s traditions endure. Her true inhabitants have lost neither their love of bold flavor nor their love of seafood. At one point a character describes an everyday meal he’s eating as “Shrimp and crawfish with herbs, and rice, thick and spicy.” Though within the novel the dish remains unnamed, the ingredients and succinct description call up the essence of traditional New Orleans fare.
The narrative’s connection of real living to real food extends beyond eating. Evidence of life lived through food peppers the narrative. A kitchen, restaurant, or cafe is often a scene’s setting. Mortal characters are often in the process of cooking or other food-related actions such as picking collards, growing herbs, or purchasing a bag of freshly caught and boiled seafood. One character, whose ‘tribe’ lives natural lives and dies natural deaths, has named his children after spices. The narrative ties true living – life with an eventual end – to flavor and active participation in sustaining the body. Food-wise, Crone’s futuristic dystopian New Orleans is still today’s and yesterday’s New Orleans, where eating entwined with enjoyment equals living.
As the story progresses, Malcolm debates whether to eat or not to eat, tempted by rich scents and mouth-watering sights, but revolted by the thought of ending his fast and his bid for immortality. Other mortal pleasures also tempt him, but it is in a New Orleans kitchen, in front of a fully-stocked fridge, that he finally makes a choice between living and subsisting. Moira Crone’s brilliant juxtaposition of New Orleans cuisine with insubstantial fare not only enhances the narrative’s case for life well-lived, but also heightens the intellectual and visceral pleasures of reading “The Not Yet.”
Check out this article if you’d like more information about this novel.
“The Not Yet”
By: Moira Crone
Publisher: UNO Press
Release: April 16, 2012, soft-cover