My original Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.
The only book I have ever encountered before about Storyville was The Girl From Storyville by Frank Yerby, published in 1972. As I listened to Spectacular Wickedness, I was struck by how accurate of a picture Yerby had portrayed in his novel. Emily Epstein Landau introduces us to the real Storyville.
New Orleans had a reputation for being a city of sin from it’s earliest days. Landau traces how this reputation was earned in each incarnation of the city. From the French, Creoles, and Americans, as New Orleans changed hands, it did not change its reputation. In 1897, the city passed a zoning code establishing a red light district in the hope of containing the vice to one area. The hope was if the vice was contained, visitors would see more of the honest hard working community and attract more business. This red light district became Storyville and for almost twenty years it was the wildest red light district in the country.
Landau explores the history of Storyville through primary source documentation from individuals from all points of the social and economic spectrum. The most important business in Storyville was sex. There were closet sized bordellos and very fancy upscale bordellos. The women who worked there were members of all races as were their customers. The major difference was while the sex workers may be of several different races within a bordello, the clientele would only be white or non-white. The rules concerning races were less stringent in Storyville then outside the red light district. That all changed with the advent of Jim Crow laws due to the Supreme Court ruling on Plessy vs. Ferguson which started in the New Orleans courts. Another area Landau explores is how Storyville was an incubator for Jazz. Many great jazz musicians began their careers playing at the bars, clubs or bordellos in Storyville. Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton are just two of these greats who worked there.
Lee Ann Howlett does a good job narrating Spectacular Wickedness. The subject matter is complex and dense at times. Her voice is pleasant and never goes to monotone. Her narration reminded me of a good college professor. It is similar to listening to a very good lecture.
Spectacular Wickedness is fascinating. Ms. Howlett does a fine job with it. The only reason I rated it as 4 stars for attention holding is because of the complexity of the information. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to look at a familiar topic through a new perspective.
Story 5 stars
Performance 5 stars
Production Quality 5 stars
Attention Holding 4 stars
Overall 5 stars
Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com