Whitney LeBlanc,
Shadows of the Blues
(Outskirts Press, 2007)

Shadows of the Blues is a novel about a Creole family in Louisiana. It covers a 20-year period from the end of World War II through the mid-1960s. This book is a sequel to Blues in the Wind and second in a trilogy by author Whitney J. LeBlanc.

Phillip Fergerson is the central character in Shadows. As the book opens up, we find Phillip's wife Martha in a mental institution. This woman was as evil as she was beautiful in her day. All the treachery she wrought and the anger she harbored eventually caught up with her. Phillip remains married, but lives a not-totally secret life with his lover Alicia.

He is not the only one with a complicated life. There are the grown children. The eldest daughter, Velma, runs a pleasure house up in Chicago while masquerading as a teacher. Lala married into an abusive relationship, yet finally escapes back to Phillip's house with her children. Rosa, once so sweet and innocent, has led a horrible life of lost love and an aborted child. In her late 30s, she falls for a con artist. Phillip's only son, Bobby, died before fulfilling his parents' wish that he become a doctor. Add in Martha's brother Lightfoot and his voodoo-practicing wife Naomi, plus Martha's look-alike half-sister Elvina, and you add several more layers of drama to the mix.

Each of these characters is brought to life with their own issues. All the while, Phillip attempts to guide these future generations toward a better life than his generation had. It doesn't help when he finds out all the bad his wife Martha unleashed. Her impact extends even beyond her death. But besides the turmoil family members cause one another, the Fergerson/Broussard families have to deal with the racial tensions of the Civil Rights era.

There is one chapter that will truly touch readers. A minor character (with a big impact) named BoBo describes a scene from his youth when he witnessed innocent negroes brutally murdered over trumped-up charges by angry white men. This incident scared him for the rest of his life. In his old age, BoBo is framed for the murder of a white boy and fears long suppressed rise back up to haunt him.

Incidentally, the title of the book, Shadows of the Blues, comes from BoBo. One day, Philip takes his teenage grandson, Les, to talk with BoBo, who explains to Les how the music of the times (1962) "is jus da shadows of da blues. ... da peoples singing da blues now nebber knew what it was really like back yonder. Da blues tells a story 'bout pain and suffering under da white man, 'bout lost love, runnin away, da chain gangs, and such as dat. ... Now we got peoples singing 'bout what dey heard tell 'about. Dey ain't nebber experienced dem things. Dey singin' 'bout the shadows."

LeBlanc resides in Napa Valley, Calif., but he grew up in Louisiana so he has a background with the area of the country he writes about (even though the town in the story is fictional). Besides writing novels, LeBlanc as written for the theatre, television and movies. He has also produced, directed and designed sets and, interestingly enough, he makes stained glass for church windows.

Shadows of the Blues starts out with a small synopsis of the Fergerson/Broussard family, which I imagine is a recap of Blues in the Wind. Despite not having read the first novel in the trilogy, I was quickly able to find my place with the second book. LeBlanc's writing flows easily and it is hard not to be captured by the trials and tribulations of life in Cajun country. Sometimes the white man is their worst enemy. Sometimes it's their own race and, sometimes, their own family.

If the book has one flaw, I would point out that while it can stand alone with how it starts out, it falters with a very abrupt end. If I did not know there was a third book, I would complain about the lack of closure.

review by
Wil Owen

3 May 2008

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