Louisiana is a state like no other. Why is it so strange? Mostly because of the people who live there, some of whom constitute the characters in this quirky collection of short stories, the first collection by Tim Gautreaux. There's a cold-feeling grandfather who is forced to raise his infant grandchild after his own child dies and who knows little more than to offer shotgun shells as toys; a pump repairman during the Great Depression who runs from the death of a farmer and his pursuing wife; and a drunken train engineer who crashes with a cargo of chemicals and becomes a fugitive.
From Publishers Weekly
In this memorable debut collection of a dozen stories, Gautreaux transforms working-class Louisiana?with its Cajun accents, savory gumbo and strawberry wine?into a fertile landscape for epiphany. And thanks to his honey-smooth prose, the truth behind the complexly drawn characters and their often desperate circumstances is subtly and resoundingly revealed. The startling image of a baby playing with shotgun shells opens "The Courtship of Merlin LeBlanc." Aging Merlin must care for his baby granddaughter after his daughter, a woman with a troubled, drug-ridden past, dies in a plane crash. Merlin's attitude toward child-rearing?"He was a man who never offered his children advice yet always marveled at how stupidly they behaved"?has resulted, indirectly, in their lost lives and early deaths. But visits by his cantankerous forebears?his 76-year-old father, Etienne, and his ancient grandfather, Octave?make him understand the importance of this final chance to parent well. In the remarkable title story, a Depression-era pump repairman finds his traveling life the object of envy by a seemingly forlorn, poverty-stricken housewife. But when he realizes the depth of her desperation to escape "the same place, same things, all my life," it's too late. The final piece, "Waiting for the Evening News," in which an unhappily married train operator celebrates his 50th birthday by getting drunk on the job, only to have the train crash in what turns out to be a national disaster, won the 1995 National Magazine Award. Gautreaux's empathy for his characters strings a shimmering thread of hope and redemption throughout these dramatic, compelling tales.
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