THE CULT OF THE MASK Or, The Strange and Delectable Tale of Life Among the Sybarites
"A wicked romp through 1980s gay New Orleans! " --Richard Brent
A group of down-and-out artists and subterraneans live a carefree life of excess and effervescence, sequestered away in Slaughterhouse Point. Across the river lurks the legendary French Quarter, but at the newly hatched Pelican Studios— a former plantation house and funeral parlor—a strange tale unfolds about growing up in the South and discovering a fantastical queer world in New Orleans during the early 1980s. Gay liberation is still in its infancy, but in the Crescent City dazzling discothèques and drag bars abound, as well as sleazy backrooms and preppy cocktail pubs, while Carnival explodes each year with its own brand of quenchless decadence.
Two close friends, Razz and Joris, make a solemn vow to attend all the gay balls of the 1985 season, a near impossible task, for tickets are bestowed, not bought. Gay Carnival exists in the shadows, yet for the queer community, it is the height of gay expression with a dozen or so krewes, or social clubs, vying for the ephemeral glory of one supreme night amid all the festive madness. However, the real theater lies not on the stages of extraordinary costume balls, but in the everyday escapades of those devoted to their own cult of the mask. Within this unique queer universe, their makeshift lives begin to unravel as the festival draws to its climax on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, and the spectre of a world-wide pandemic hovers menacingly on the horizon, poised to sow terrible destruction.
Howard Philips Smith has recreated a pivotal moment in the history of queer New Orleans by way of a fictional novel. Or more accurately a roman faux , which reveals more truth than fiction. This pre-AIDS innocence revels in its own freedom and sense of timelessness. Vivid characters within the narrative go about their day-to-day existence against a backdrop of historical clarity.