Boulevard, a Novel of New Orleans
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~
Jim Grimsley’s novel Boulevard is a coming-of-age story set in New Orleans in the 1970s. A young man named Newell is the main character and the novel’s protagonist. Coming from a small town in Alabama, he’s naïve and inexperienced, as we would expect him to be. Life in New Orleans is a revelation to him.
Alone in the big city. He only has a little money. He needs a job, fast, and he needs a place to stay. He walks the streets, going from restaurant to restaurant, hoping to find work as a waiter or a dishwasher. Finally he finds a job as a busboy, even though it’s not exactly what he had in mind. After checking many newspaper ads, he finds a room to rent. The room, located above a junk store in the Latin Quarter, is owned by an odd lady named Louise who turns out to be a lesbian (she also owns the junk store).
He’s delighted with the money he makes as a busboy. He furnishes his little apartment (more just a room) with purchases from the junk store. He’s doing well, until a snit among his fellow restaurant workers causes him to get fired. (Call it office politics.) Now he’s back where he started from.
He doesn’t have to wait long before finding another job. This one is in an “adult” bookstore that sells sex toys, pornographic books and magazines. In the back of the bookstore is a room where dirty movies are shown, via coin operated machines.
Newell thrives working in the bookstore in unexpected ways. He was hired by the crude manager of the bookstore because he’s “cute,” and because he’s cute he becomes a favorite with the (mostly gay) customers. He has some original ideas about presentation and organization of merchandise, bringing in more customers, and soon he is made manager and wears a dog collar.
More importantly, he discovers his own sexuality. He becomes a favorite in clubs and bars and makes some new friends, including Henry, a promiscuous, middle-aged homosexual, and Mark, a young man with whom he has a semi-serious affair. Another interesting character is Miss Sophia, the “cleaning lady” in the bookstore who has a silent crush on Newell. As we come to know Miss Sophia, we discover she is a transgender who used to be a lawyer living as a man. Also, there’s Jerry, a lonely, older, married man with whom Newell has an intense sexual encounter.
Boulevard is a story about New Orleans (and the seamy side) but is also about a sexual awakening and the loss of innocence. As the novel shows us (and is traditional in stories of this kind), you can only go so far with loss of innocence, and if you step over a certain boundary, you will find yourself in serious trouble.
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp