Sunday, July 14, 2013

'The Never List' a gripping first novel

             A car accident leaves teenagers Sarah and Jennifer shaken to the core, especially since Jennifer’s mother has died. They compile a “Never List,” a catalog of actions to be avoided, such as never walking through the dark areas of campus or never getting into cars with strangers. They bar their dorm windows, keep a ladder handy in case of a fire, and plan their outings carefully.
             In a perverse irony, they drink too much at a college party and call a service for a ride back to the dorms, only to be abducted. Their captor keeps them locked in a cellar for years, along with two other women, and subjects them to torture.
            The horrors of their experience is told in small increments and delicately (which I appreciated) in “The Never List” by Koethis Zan, with the bulk of the story revolving around Sarah years later. Sarah is plagued with phobias and trying to rebuild her life, but her captor is up for parole and sending her creepy letters. Most of all, she still doesn’t know what happened to Jennifer.
            Slowly, Sarah embarks on a cross-country tour, enlisting the help of her estranged cellmates, uncovering an underworld of secret cults and torture. As she travels to places like New Orleans, Alabama and the place of her abduction, Oregon, she slowly comes to grips with her phobias, but it’s a horrific road she must travel.
            “The Never List” is Zan’s debut novel, an admirable accomplishment that hits bookshelves this week. The novel’s non-stop suspense takes hold making it hard to put down, even though the story ignites base fears.

Une Belle Maison
            If you begin at the French Quarter and follow the river downstream to the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, you will be following what used to be a long line of riverside plantation homes. One of these was the Lombard Plantation house, referred to in an 1835 bill of sale as “une belle maison.” While the other plantations have been torn down or lost to the river, the Lombard home remains, an example of an early 19th century West Indian-style residence. 
             S. Frederick Starr offers detailed history on the Lombard home, plus fascinating information on neighboring homes and the Bywater neighborhood that grew up in place of the plantations in “Une Belle Maison: The Lombard Plantation House inNew Orleans’s Bywater,” published by University Press of Mississippi. Starr discusses the heyday of the plantations, their locations and history, the later deterioration of the neighborhood and the resurrection of both Lombard home and Bywater, plus gives detail accounts of daily life within the Lombard household.
            Architectural photographer Robert S. Brantley provides the illustrations, many of which are never before seen photos of the riverfront homes and old plans for the Lombard home. 

Gaines honored
            By the time this is published, President Barack Obama will have presented Louisiana author Ernest J. Gaines with the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government, the 2012 National Medal of Arts. Gaines was honored for his contributions as an author and teacher and joins other award recipients New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint, Star Wars director George Lucas, musician Herb Alpert, comedienne, director and writer Elaine May and Lake Charles playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner. Gaines’ novels include “A Lesson Before Dying,” “The Autobiography of Miss JanePittman,” “A Gathering of Old Men,” “Of Love and Dust” and “Catherine Carmier.” Gaines is also the University of Louisiana at Lafayette writer-in-residence emeritus.

Book events
            Edward T. Haslam, author of “Dr. Mary’s Monkey” will host a symposium on the legal and medical implications of the 1964 murder of New Orleans physician Dr. Mary Sherman from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, July 20, at Loyola University in New Orleans. The event, sponsored by The Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice and Trine Day Publishing, will be held in Room 114 of Loyola’s Miller Hall. Admission is $20. Visit or call (800) 556-2012.
            The Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge is hosting talks in July highlighting Louisiana's Acadian, Cajun and Creole heritage, and will offer one at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 18. Guests are invited to arrive early to view the exhibits as the museum galleries will remain open until the program begins. Refreshments will be provided by the Louisiana State Museum Friends beginning at 6 p.m. This Thursday the talk will be “Preserving the Heritage: Bayou Pigeon, Louisiana-Spirit of the Atchafalaya” with Cliff LeGrange, Adam Landry, Geraldine Settoon, Jimmy Landry, Patricia Settoon and Stan Routh. The panel will present a special program that documents the unique traditions and folklife culture of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. Guests will view printed material and illustrations; hear historical facts and firsthand stories of the Cajun Culture of Bayou Pigeon; and enjoy a special Cajun music presentation by Calvin LeBlanc.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She teaches writing at UL-Lafayette’s Continuing Education. Write her at