True Drama Ripped from the Headlines

By Gilmore, Brian | The Crisis, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview

True Drama Ripped from the Headlines


Gilmore, Brian, The Crisis


True Drama Ripped from the Headlines

Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance in New Orleans

By Jed Home (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25)

New Orleans, "the Big Easy," has always proved to be a great setting for intriguing literary efforts. A Streetcar Named Desire, the Tennessee Williams play, finds its legend set in the city, as did John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. Now comes a non-fiction entry into that tradition, and it is quite a worthwhile effort.

Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance in New Orleans is journalist Jed Horne's first book. Horne, the city editor for The Times-Picayune, the top daily newspaper in New Orleans, delivers a true urban drama ripped straight from the headlines that manages to maintain a crisp southern tone and rhythm.

Desire Street focuses on an aspect of life in the Crescent City that has rarely appeared in book form. Readers will not be romanticized with gumbo, Mardi Gras or sightings of "voodoo queen" Marie Laveau in the French Quarter. The stereotypical perception of New Orleans is challenged as Home reveals how poverty, racism, crime and violence makes life on the bayou for many Black people dysfunctional, hopeless yet wanting. Hence, the book's title, Desire Street - which in this saga is the moniker for a street, a housing project and a neighborhood. Most appropriately, Horne labels the community a "troubled patch" and "the end of the line."

In a nutshell, the story is as follows: In September 1984, a 60-year-old White woman, a grandmother, Delores Dye, is murdered in broad daylight in a grocery store parking lot. Home relates her fate in stark terms, reporting that she "ran afoul of a thief as she loaded a shopping cart of groceries into her car."

But it is also the story of how the search for justice for Dye was badly pursued by the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office. Led by District Attorney Harry Connick Sr., father of the famous jazz singer, the authorities' quest for justice becomes chaotic when it focuses on Curtis Kyles, a young Black man with deep roots in Desire Street.

It is through Kyles that Home presents his brilliant narrative. Every act in Kyles's troubled life is dissected and examined. Home is reporter, detective, sociologist and psychiatrist in his pursuit of the truth. He recreates a compelling real-life drama unique in scope and in aesthetic value. Lives are wasted; heroic acts are scarce. …

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