In these ten remarkable linked stories, Andrea Lewis explores the deep roots of legacy as family members grapple with their tenuous connections to the land and to each other.
The opening story, “Tierra Blanca,” introduces us to Hannah, the youngest member of the Delgado family, and her flight to New Mexico in search of a new beginning. Under sunlight that “feels like an interrogation,” Hannah pursues her infatuation with her new boss only to learn that her past is not so easily discarded.
In “Rancho Cielito,” Hannah must answer the irrefutable call of home when her eccentric older sister, Iris, chains herself to a tree to protect a crop of pelican eggs. Hindered by the united front of her mother, Carrington, and Louis Paradiso, the family’s “all-around-everything man,” more father figure than hired hand, Iris undergoes her own untethering from the only land and life she has ever known.
From there, the collection surges backward through time, reframing our understanding of the family by pondering what brought them to this juncture. “Queen Juliette” presents us with the unlikely love story of Maestro Rainer von Schofeld and the enchanting Juliette Devereaux, ancestors of Louis Paradiso. Told entirely through the Maestro’s witty correspondences, the story paints an unforgettable portrait of late-nineteenth century New Orleans and the romance that breached the strictest barriers of race and class.
As Lewis goes on to explore the riches and losses of the New Orleans blues scene (“What My Last Man Did”), the resilient tenderness of a grief-stricken boy (“Tchoupitoulas”), and the fateful meeting in postwar London that cements the Delgado legacy (“The Empire Pool”), our perceptions of the family deepen and shift, until we are finally brought full circle to Hannah’s second chance at a fresh start in “Family Cucurbita,” this time with Iris at her side.
Through prose as lush and unforgettable as the landscape it evokes, What My Last Man Did builds a family mythology that is unflinching and inspiring, full of love and loss. The characters who wander through these pages are bravely uncertain about the future. Their trials bring into sharp relief a family’s potential for fracture without ever questioning its power to survive.
What My Last Man Did was selected by Michael Martone as the winner of the 2016 IR / IU Press Blue Light Books Prize, awarded on alternating years to a short story or poetry collection of outstanding merit. To learn more about the prize, please click here.
Praise for What My Last Man Did
"What My Last Man Did is a quiet jewel, a jazz riff emanating from New Orleans, Galveston, and Las Cruces, a stunning debut. The language is biting, lyrical, cruel, funny, erotic, and laced with wit. Beginning with the gorgeous and formidable Queen Juliette, owner of an 1895 New Orleans brothel and moving on to Hannah Delgado's 1970s love affair with her boss, the people of these interconnected stories are entangled by love—or is it lust?—that is tender, ferocious, illicit, at times illegal, compulsive, and compelling. What My Last Man Did is mesmerizing from the first page to the last." —Priscilla Long, author of Fire and Stone: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
"Andrea Lewis’s linked stories about Hannah Delgado and her family’s “frayed skein of love” may make you fall in love with both a new writer and the fictional family she’s created. Lewis’s characters are funny and flawed and infuriating, but also loyal and trying as hard as they can to be good. Her prose is witty and full of grace and talks about things that matter. This book, I hope, is only the first of many by this wise and generous author." —Rebecca Brown, author of American Romances
"Iris and Hannah Delgado are as memorable and winning a pair of sisters as I have come across in contemporary literature. With compassion, raucous good humor, and razor sharp details, this collection walks backward in time into the deep history of the sisters' eccentric Texas family." —Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted