With comparisons to Flaubert, Chekhov, and Faulkner, O. Henry Award-winner John Biguenet earned wide acclaim for his debut short-story collection, The Torturer's Apprentice. In his astonishing first novel, Oyster, he demonstrates the same mastery of craft and rigor of vision that led critics across the country to join Robert Olen Butler in praising this "important new writer."
Set on the Louisiana coast in 1957, Oyster recounts the engrossing tale of a deadly rivalry between two families. To avoid ruin after years of declining oyster crops, Felix and Mathilde Petitjean offer their young daughter, Therese, in marriage to 52-year-old Horse Bruneau, who holds the papers on their boat and house. Bruneau has spent his life as Felix's rival for both the Petitjeans' century-old oyster beds and, as we learn, Mathilde. But as Therese explains to Horse one night as they float in a pirogue alone in the marsh, "I don't get bought for the price of no damn boat."
The spiraling violence of Oyster and the seething passions behind it drive an unpredictable tale of murder and revenge in which two women and the men who desire them play out a drama as elemental and inexorable as a Greek tragedy.
Much feted for his debut collection of stories, The Torturer's Apprentice, Biguenet follows up with a steamy first novel set on the Louisiana coast. The Petitjeans and the Bruneaus are rival oyster fishing families in Plaquemines Parish in 1957, struggling to survive in an environment rapidly falling prey to petroleum companies and their ravaging of swamp and bayou ecosystems. As it gets more difficult to hang on economically, old families begin to slip. The Petitjean family, headed by Felix, has reluctantly turned to "Horse" Bruneau for a loan. Desperate for cash, Felix and his wife, Mathilde, approve Horse's plan to marry their daughter, Therese. Therese scotches that plan by luring Horse to the Petitjean property for a supposed midnight tryst, then murdering him. When Horse's body turns up in a trawler's net, his sons Darryl ("Little Horse") and Ross (with their gentler brother, Rusty, looking on in horror) murder Therese's brother, Alton, who they blame for Horse's murder since nobody even considers that a slip of a girl like Therese could kill the powerful Horse. Darryl has always hated Alton, anyway, suspecting (rightly, as it turns out) that Alton is his half brother the fruit of an affair between Mathilde and Horse. After the murder, Sheriff Christovich, an old beau of Mathilde's, manipulates Darryl into letting Rusty work for the Petitjeans, hoping Rusty will talk. But it is Therese who exacts vengeance on the Bruneau house with the implacability of a Plaquemines Lady Macbeth. While Biguenet makes the Bruneaus, except for Rusty, a bit too villainous and Therese a bit too clever for plausibility's sake, his debut satisfyingly penetrates the curtain of gumbo clich surrounding Cajun culture. (June) Forecast: Booksellers may expect to build handily on the success of The Torturer's Apprentice with this juicy follow-up and should certainly capitalize on the novel's regional appeal. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.