City of Refuge and Treme

Last night’s sixth episode of Treme was written by Tom Piazza, extending David Simon’s habit of bringing local voices to bear on local stories, and also of hiring writers (like George Pelecanos) who’ve mastered the art of embedding in a story the deep and persistent internal conflicts that make us human. I’m taking an educated guess that large parts of Creighton Bernette’s character are based upon Piazza’s experience writing about New Orleans after Katrina.  In 2005, he published Why New Orleans Matters, which offers a defense of the city based in its culture and history that anticipates the simmering anger that flows through Bernette’s YouTube rants.  Piazza’s 2008 novel City of Refuge is one of the more captivating books I’ve read in the past few years, and anyone digging the combination of tough questions and local flavor dripping from episodes of Treme should check it out. It tells the story of two very different families dispersed by the flood and their efforts to reconnect with their lives, their pasts, New Orleans, and their futures. While a bit on the sentimental side, and less powerful than the true stories captured by Spike Lee’s masterful documentary When the Levees Broke and Douglas Brinkley’s The Great Deluge, it’s a worthy companion to all the thinking about life and culture that Treme is spurring us to do.

Update: here’s more from on Piazza’s role on the series.