New Orleans Times-Picayune “Book of 2007”
Monroe News-Star “Louisiana Book of the Year”
Set in southern Louisiana in the weeks preceding the great flood of 1927, this novel depicts a place and way of life about to be forever changed. On the verge of manhood and a stone’s throw of the rising Mississippi River, Louis Proby is pulled between his love of the natural world and the glittering temptations of New Orleans, between the beautiful Nanette Lançon and a father who no longer seems larger-than-life, between the simplicity of childhood and the complicated decisions of adulthood. Louis comes of age at a time when the country is coming of age. In Louisiana, it’s a time when the powerful prove themselves willing to sacrifice the poor to protect their position. As the people of Cypress Parish go about their daily lives, bankers in New Orleans are plotting to alter those lives irrevocably. Like so many calamities, the one that befalls Cypress Parish has both natural and human causes. Based on historical events and narrated on the eve of another disaster, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish is a beautifully turned novel of love and natural history, married to the shadowy politics of Louisiana, a novel about what manhood means now and what it meant in the south in the 1920s.
If there is any novel published this year that everybody should read, it is The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish by Elise Blackwell.
—Kansas City Star
Elise Blackwell’s second novel looks back to the flood of 1927 (a real event) in the (fictional) Cypress Parish, childhood home of Louis Proby… From the vantage point of old age, Louis looks back on the choices he made in ‘the strange and wet spring I turned 17 and crossed the marshy border that separates all that is good and bad of boyhood from all that is good and bad of manhood.’
—The New York Times
Blackwell weaves human history with natural history and, with an assortment of vibrant characters, tells a compelling story of a river that still resists the best math and science humanity can construct. Highly recommended.
—Library Journal, *Starred Review
On the eve of Hurricane Katrina, the now elderly narrator, Louis Proby, remembers the great floods of his small Louisiana town in 1927, recounting an intimate, resonant history of the era.
Elise Blackwell’s novels are sublime. Rendered with precision and humanity, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish is, like Hunger, about memory, history, and what guilt can do to a person over the course of a life. It is also a tour de force. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The present haunts the past in this beautiful and timely book. Blackwell burns time, love, and loss down into a bed of discrete mnemonic coals. The voice is so true that it reads like the purest, most authentic memoir. This novel is tough, and sad, and lovely.
Elise Blackwell once again demonstrates her marvelous talent for braiding together public and private history. The result is a beautifully written and absorbing novel.
Blackwell’s grasp of the events surrounding the great flood is acute and grounded in a moral logic that reveals how politics can destroy a city.
A historical novel in the best sense of the term, one rooted in a dramatic event made all the more relevant by recent catastrophe.
—Dallas Morning News