Going to New Orleans, by Charles Tidler

Anvil Press, 158 pp, $20, softcover.

If books had bloodlines, Going to New Orleans would be a cousin to both Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter and Tom Walmsley's Doctor Tin, and a bastard grandchild of Georges Bataille's The Story of the Eye. Like Slaughter, the protagonist is a horn player with a dark side, New Orleans in all its voodoo glory is a central character, and the language is evocative and spare. As with Tin and Eye, the all-pervasive sexuality is transgressive, perverse, algolagnic, and disturbingly captivating, like seeing a car wrecked after running the red-light district.

Understatedly subtitled A Dirty Book, the book is thick with sex and violence, spontaneous, public, and often anonymous. Waking in Victoria from a disturbing dream, our narrator tells us: "My name is Lewis King. I play trumpet. My girlfriend is insane, and so am I." He accepts a contract playing his "sweet horn" in New Orleans, invites his girlfriend, Ms Sugarlicq, and the plot plunges into a surreal pastiche of kinky sex, literary and musical allusions, and bawdy guide to the sinking city.

This is the first novel from Tidler, a playwright and "spoken jazz artist", and these crafts show in his solid dialogue and poetic passages, which beg to be read aloud, each delicious syllabic juxtaposition an aural come-on, like describing the Mississippi's banks as "humble squatter shacks shyly hiding in the deep green mosses and willows of the mud flats, shacks built on poles with swaying boardwalks a watery tickle above the muscle of the river, shacks built of threadbare hope and rusting corrugated tin dreams". Tidler's images often rest at the nexus of ripe and rotten, as when Lewis describes his "right eye swollen shut like a split plum", or when Ms Sugarlicq says she's "soaking up the sun like a flesh sponge".

Music infuses Going to New Orleans, from the opening Percy Mayfield quote to Lewis later talking with agent Doc Nawlins, "chattering like monkeys over bananas, about food, beer, and music, and sex--what else is there in New Orleans?" To quote the Velvet Underground's "Some Kinda Love", this book "Like a dirty French novel/the absurd courts the vulgar", offering us beauty contrasted with coarse, harsh, visceral passions, like the metallic tang of come and blood commingled.