20 greatest works of fiction about New Orleans

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A Hall of Mirrors (Cover image via Houghton Mifflin)

14. A Hall of Mirrors

Robert Stone’s 1964 debut novel, A Hall of Mirrors, offers a unique takeon the city of New Orleans. Where other works focus on the city during its dramatic antebellum years or more familiar modern times, Stone’s work (which was admittedly modern at the time), looks at the people of New Orleans during the turbulent 1960s.

This particular version of New Orleans is hardly shiny and new. Like the rest of the country, the people in A Hall of Mirrors are scarred — sometimes physically, sometimes psychologically, sometimes both — by the Vietnam War. Even if they haven’t been to war themselves, they are affected by the increasingly dire conditions abroad and at home. This New Orleans is full of these people, navigating their way through a dingy, crime-ridden city.

The novel’s main character is Rheinhardt, a cynical drunk who manages to get a job as a local disc jockey. Eventually, he falls in with a group of conservative right-wingers and becomes embroiled in political intrigue. We cross paths with corrupt evangelicals and lawyers, not to mention some broadly drawn caricatures of ultra-conservatives that hit a little too close to home today.

There’s also Geraldine, a young transplant from West Virginia who becomes involved with Rheinhardt, and the naive, well-meaning Morgan Rainey. Morgan attempts and then fails to make connections with black people in the city via a social services survey. He then learns a hard lesson about the sustained presence of racism in both New Orleanian society and the nation as a whole.

A Hall of Mirrors isn’t exactly a pick-me-up sort of novel, to be sure. However, its depiction of a gritty, grimy city is compelling and pretty relevant to today’s world.