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.
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.