In this collection of stories, Tim Gautreaux chronicles the lives of "ordinary" people who face extraordinary circumstances and decisions: a farmer faced with the prospect of raising his infant granddaughter; a young man who falls in love with a voice on the radio; a train engineer who causes a colossal disaster. In stories filled with heart and humor, event and consequence, the customs and culture of Louisiana come to life in the hands of a writer who blends rare talent with an even more unusual humanity.
A terrific debut collection from a Louisiana writer whose stylish, sympathetic understanding of working-class sensibilities and Cajun culture gives his work a flavor and universality unique among contemporary writers.
Gautreaux's 12 stories move to a musical beat, and they're filled with both verbal surprises and sudden narrative twistssometimes into unanticipated violence, sometimes, contrarily, toward revelations of more decency and strength in his characters than we had believed them capable of. His people include the itinerant pump repairman (in the title story) who gets unfortunately involved with a phlegmatic widow who'll do anything to escape her stifling life and environment; the middle-aged widower (of "The Courtship of Merlin Le Blanc") who finds he can't escape the constrictionsand satisfactionsof family; a well-meaning exterminator ("The Bug Man") who becomes intimately, catastrophically involved in the lives of his clients; and, most memorably, the nursing-home employee (in the wonderful "Deputy Sid's Gift") whose confused responses to the "black drunk truck thief" who keeps invading his life eventually rescue him from his own meanness. Only one piece (the smug "Navigators of Thought") misfires, though the repetition of similar plot elements and the use in more than one story of the same names suggest that the book could have used more stringent editing. All of the tales are powered by a racy, vigorous prose that makes you want to keep on quoting ("He didn't know her from Adam's house cat"; "You can't work too steady if you're a Louisiana man. You got to lay off and smell the roses a bit, drink a little beer and put some wear on your truck").
Moving and memorable portrayals of people who really are changedand, often, in spite of themselves, upliftedby the complexities of their experiences and their relationships. The gifted Gautreaux harkens back to the early work of Flannery O'Connor.