A Review of Delaney Nolan’s Shotgun Style: A Diagram of the Territory of New Orleans
By Christopher Lowe
Early in the title story of Delaney Nolan’s chapbook Shotgun Style: A Diagram of the Territory of New Orleans, the narrator describes winter in New Orleans as “barely a bruise.” As I moved through the collection, I thought again and again of that metaphor. I thought of bruises and winters that leave a mark. Nolan’s New Orleans is a bruised place, and it is inhabited by bruised people.
The pain of a damaged place is there in the eight stories of this collection. Physically, the New Orleans of Shotgun Style is still marred by Katrina. There are leveled houses and FEMA trailers, and the pain of those physical realities is at play, but the real pain, the pain that gnaws at the reader, is in the characters themselves. It is a pain that is rooted in loss. One of the best stories in the collection, “Little Monster” brilliantly illustrates Nolan’s skill with handling this loss. In the story, the main character finds a small monster in the gutter, takes it home, feeds it, cares for it. When it dies the next morning, she buries it by the river. The story is short, just three pages, but there is a fully formed narrative movement in that space, a shift from the strange allure of finding a monster to the graveside mourning of the final paragraph. “Little Monster” is a story that doesn’t reference Katrina, flooding, hurricanes, or even New Orleans. It is simple and direct, but there is an undercurrent of pain that throbs below its surface.
Nolan frequently pairs pain with desire. The characters in Shotgun Style yearn for something beyond themselves, something that they can’t articulate, something that may not even exist. In “We Shall Fill Our House With Spoil,” an unnamed narrator takes a job where she must contact people who have taken out classified ads and convince them to let her video them while they show off whatever it is that they’re selling. Her company will air these videos on public access for a portion of the sale. At first, she struggles with this, unable to connect with the people she calls. Eventually, she learns how to get a foot in the door. Once she’s inside their homes, watching them through the camera lens as they describe their possessions, desire takes root. She wants something from life, and she can see it, just out of the corner of her eye, as she’s videoing these people. She says, “I was looking for something. You would have been looking, too. I hadn’t found it in my family, in my sister… But I almost found it on that tape….” There is something out there in the world – call it connection or love or friendship – that she wants to grab hold of, but the only tool she has for accessing it is a camera.
There is a frustration, too, that mounts for the characters in Shotgun Style. It is frustration born from loss, from blocked desire, from lack of that “something” that the narrator of “We Shall Fill Our House With Spoil” is searching for. The beauty of the collection is in Nolan’s ability to take that frustration and pair it with a something more complex, something that hints at the possibility of healing, the possibility of connection, the possibility of “something.”
The final story in the collection, “Ninth Ward Hunters” is a brief piece, set during Mardi Gras. The narrator dances alongside a tribe of Mardi Gras Indians. She moves with them, tries to keep up. By the end of the story, her dancing has become something new. It is part funeral dirge, a lamentation for what is lost. As they move closer to the Ninth Ward, she says, “…now there’s nothing to see. Just government trailers. A bunch of overgrown lots. Just a bunch of empty space where something used to stand.” They are dancing toward this emptiness, and there is remembrance for what was there and for what was lost, but the other part of the dance is something else, something more complicated. A resurrection. “So we dancing towards it to fill it up,” she says. There is pain in that filling, but there is determination as well—a ferocity of intent. When she says, “Me, storm-wrecked, land-drowned, teeth out sharp like the right kind of animal: come to defend what’s mine,” we can see how it looks when the bruise begins to fade.
Delaney Nolan, Shotgun Style: A Diagram of the Territory of New Orleans, RopeWalk Press Fiction Editor’s Chapbook Prize, 2012.
Christopher Lowe is the author of Those Like Us: Stories (SFASU Press, 2011). His fiction has appeared widely in journals including Third Coast, Bellevue Literary Review, and War, Literature, and the Arts. He teaches English and Creative Writing at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA.