“Book Review: Beyond Bourbon Street”
Reviewed by Joseph Edwin Haeger
A rich and engaging story about love, loss, and the search for marital bliss in the rebuilt ruins of New Orleans
Nikesha Elise Williams weaves a rich and layered novel with Beyond Bourbon Street, focusing our attention on numerous points of pain—systemic racism, the revitalization of New Orleans, and a wealth of childhood trauma—and it doesn’t let us look away. It is a deeply empathetic book as we feel the emotional struggles of these characters. Yes, it’s full of turmoil, but it dodges the feeling of overbearing grief. Rather, Beyond Bourbon Street is like sitting on your back porch in the middle of summer, having a cool drink while your best friend tells you about their deep dark secrets no one else knows.
Years after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, Graigh and Bombei are expecting their first child. Some areas of the city are rebuilt and thriving, while others—like where they live—is still struggling. Married for 10 years, the two of them must confront painful memories from their childhoods before they drive a wedge too far into their already rocky relationship. They seek the help of Doctor Grace, who, through tough counseling, helps them acknowledge the nightmares from their past.
From the first chapter we see how complex these characters are. Graigh and Bombei love each other, there’s no doubt about that, but there’s a disconnect stemming from Graigh’s inability to open up and talk about the trauma from her past. But we soon learn that Bombei has a past he’s not talking about too. This isn’t a big epic years-spanning novel. It’s got a hefty page count, but the actual narrative is grounded and focused primarily on these two people and their marriage. The conflicts appear big because, for Graigh and Bombei, they are big. We’re put on the front lines of these arguments and we’re able to see both sides. That’s what makes Beyond Bourbon Street so compelling: we’re not rooting for one person or the other.
Toward the end of the book it does feel like the story starts running on fumes and is spinning words just to get to the birth. There are some great themes and conflicts set up in the beginning, but by the middle they are seemingly abandoned for the rift between Graigh and Bombei. These are the two main characters, and Beyond Bourbon Street is a quiet, human story—so I get the shift in focus—but I would have loved to see more come out of Graigh’s relationship with her brother or a deeper dive into race.
Beyond Bourbon Street reminds me of the thick novels I read in college. There’s the main conflict with Graigh and Bombei, the underlying conflict with their home being in the underrepresented part of town, and the even deeper conflict of her memories haunting her. Graigh is understandably thrown into anxious fits when these all intertwine together, and we can see the complexity of Beyond Bourbon Street’s story shift and form.
At a human level, this book is an absolute knockout. It’s the kind of novel that strikes at the core of what it means to be a human, struggling to simply be. A reflection for what it means to strive for fulfillment and purpose in your life, even in the face of change. And while you might not fully overcome the adversity, you’re making progress and that’s definitely something worth celebrating.
Publisher: New Reads Publications
Hardcover: 418 pages
Thank you for reading “Book Review: Beyond Bourbon Street” by Joseph Edwin Haeger! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.