Come hell or high water, Camille Broussard cooks.
A housekeeper for many years at the Catholic rectory in her parish, the widowed Camille still dreams of opening a restaurant featuring the Creole stews and gumbos of her small Louisiana hometown. While she prepares spicy meat pies (a popular item at the funeral home), she reminisces about her peaceful childhood and later move to Los Angeles, where she married her second cousin Henri Broussard and raised seven children amidst the riots and strife of 1960s Watts. The close-knit community of transplanted southern blacks never recovered, but she still thinks of it as home—one she will never leave. Yet by now, according to her unofficial reckoning, she’d have to sell 389 meat pies at full price every year for the rest of her life to earn enough money to retire. A daunting prospect, but it doesn’t look like her children are going to take care of her. Yvette, 48, is a burned-out schoolteacher; Raymond an unemployed longshoreman; Louis a born-again auto mechanic; Anthony a cabinetmaker like his father; Marc an architect with his own firm though no one has ever seen one of his buildings. Meantime, Joseph is an alcoholic drifter; and then there’s Grace, an underachieving lesbian, whose battered, bumper-stickered Datsun is her mother’s secret shame. Camille believes in keeping up appearances, and radical slogans and unorthodox sexuality are nothing to flaunt. Yet she loves all her offspring, sometimes fiercely, sometimes dispassionately, exactly as they are: “two unattached, three unemployed, four unholy, two unashamed, seven unhappy, and one quite unwell.” Sometimes they even love her back. There’s also old Lester Pep, whose unfailing devotion gets Camille through good days and bad. Getting mugged by her own grandson ain’t the worst of it, but nothing is going to stop Camille—or her Creole Kitchen eatery.
Thoughtful, lovingly written tale of one woman’s quiet determination to survive, from playwright and second-novelist Rawles (Love Like Gumbo, 1997, not reviewed).