The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story
Ecco Press, 2008
Reviewed for Reader Views 8/08
Julia Reed, a contributing editor at Vogue and Newsweek, spent her childhood in Greenville, Mississippi and traveled frequently to New Orleans with family and friends to experience all that the Big Easy had to offer. As an adult, she again found herself trekking from her new home base in Manhattan to New Orleans, with more and more of her time spent down in the Delta as the years went by, even though she still maintained a home in Manhattan.
The experiences Julia had while in New Orleans, both during her childhood and as an adult are described for the reader in resplendent detail. From the hotels where she stayed, and the restaurants where she ate, to the districts of the city that she visited; the narrative is bright, crisp and meticulously told. Because of this the reader is able to conjure up the people and places in the novel in their minds eye, and I am sure that those familiar with the locations described in “The House on First Street” will find the descriptions to be on point.
Finally, in her forties, Julia was ready to commit to living her life full time in New Orleans, and along with her husband, she purchased an old Greek Revival home in the Garden District on First Street. Julia had many frustrating, funny, and repeated run-ins with the various contractors that were hired to work on the home, and she recounts these experiences in vivid detail. After more than a year, she and her husband were finally able to move in to their home, and four weeks later Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans with a vengeance.
Julia never doubted that she would return to her home in New Orleans, and did as much as she could to assist the friends and employees that were, to varying degrees, left to pick up the pieces after Katrina hit the city. In “The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story “ she recalls her first visits back in to the city, when FEMA was not yet involved, and the devastation that she witnessed traveling through the flooded streets with her press pass as the “golden ticket” past the city limits. She reveals the steps she took to get her life back on track, as well as recounting what those around her were doing to make it through the days and to reclaim the lives they had come to love in New Orleans. Julia and her large circle of friends did an immense amount to bring the city back to life, through the re-opening of well-loved restaurants, holding fundraisers to get money back in to the city, and helping fellow citizens in whatever way was necessary, from cleaning out refrigerators full of rancid food, to bringing meals in to the National Guard troops, and offering desperately needed work to the craftsman who came to rebuild.
The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story” is a poignant, heartfelt and humorous tale of one woman’s journey back to a semblance of normalcy after one of the most devastating events in our country’s history. It is not meant to be a sob-story, but is rather a tale of the strength and courage that it took for one woman to reclaim her life in the city she calls home.