A masterful debut novel about a young man reckoning with his family on the tough streets of Houston in the 1980s.
Guillory balances the details of the 1980s with post–Civil War history to bring continuity to the Creole-speaking, culturally steeped Boudreaux family, living in the “hood” that is South Park, Houston. Ti’ John, short for Petit John, fully John Paul Boudreaux Jr., narrates life in a well-intentioned family where mother is a devout Catholic and father is a riotous character hard to forget. Time bounces sensuously from 1870s to 1940s Louisiana to 1980 Texas, and the language and dialect change with place. In Louisiana, Haitian French flows beautifully, “ancient and powerful,” not dark or ominous like the tough talk of the ghetto kids on a steamy street where murders are woven into the fabric of the neighborhood. Ti’ John is schooled in the ways of the Creole healers by his father, John Frenchy, who has a way with horses, dice and women. But knowledge of the past crosses into the mystical as the Burning Wood Man, an uncle hanged in 1953, appears as a dark guardian for Ti’ John’s education. There is a great rhythm in this novel—in language as well as action. When the healers speak, it is from a place deep in the earth. When the street kids speak, it is in the immediacy of growing up and exotic hopes: red Now and Later candy, cars, girls, drugs, and, in Ti’ John’s case, a future that his mother has worked and prayed for. There is poetry in the ways of the Creole Boudreaux family history, in the voodoo and zydeco, and in a young man going off to college.
Elegantly balanced, dense and ripe, Guillory's novel illuminates things alien to most, and although ugly and hard at times, it brings hope, no matter the dark secrets of family.