Thirty five years ago, I went on a business trip to New Orleans with my husband. He was busy all day working the booth for the Associated Press at the American Newspaper Publishers Association convention while I ran the streets. The trip was the most fun I’ve had by myself. What a great town to be free to do whatever I wanted. I spent eight days in the French Quarter, poking into shops, wandering down private alleys, and looking in windows of wonderful old homes.
Toward the end of the trip, I finally came across something that wasn’t so wonderful. The horses that pulled the tourist carriages around the Quarter did something to my heart. They didn’t look that happy to me. On the last afternoon I’d have the privilege of visiting, I sat alone at Café Du Monde drinking coffee and people watching, trying not to focus on the horses. The concern didn’t go away, however, and the idea to write a story about their plight settled in my head. For all the beauty of the Quarter, there was something dark and sad about the horses.
Returning home, I began researching; this was before I knew how to use a computer, so it was at the library, microfiche, old travelogues, and encyclopedias. I could find nothing sensational about the horses in New Orleans, which appeared to be well-taken care of in spite of my concerns.
A story began to grow about a child, a little girl, who could communicate with the horses of the Quarter. Alas, when I finished, it reminded me too much of the old Mr. Ed television series and I scraped it. The feeling persisted, dark and unsavory, and soon I began working on The Savant of Chelsea. In this story, a young woman from the French Quarter who is on the autism spectrum goes to medical school, and on to do a residency in neurosurgery in Manhattan.
Publisher’s Weekly reviewed The Savant of Chelsea a few years ago and one of the lines from the review has become its tagline – A New York brain surgeon returns to New Orleans to face the secrets and tragedies of her youth.
The review: This gripping novel from Jenkins delivers complex twists and turns from start to finish. Alexandra Donicka is a talented but unstable brain surgeon living in New York City. When her mother dies, Alexandra travels to New Orleans to face the tragedies and secrets of her youth. These include childhood abuse and the birth of a child, who was taken from Alexandra by her mother more than two decades ago. As Alexandra searches for her daughter, she must grapple with long-hidden emotions and discover her own humanity. Jenkins creates fully realized, believable characters and ably portrays mental illness in this dark tale that provides nonstop thrills and culminates in an explosive and unexpected finale.
A New York surgeon travels to New Orleans after her mother dies to face the secrets and tragedies of youth, leading on a journey to madness.