A collection of short stories that cover war, love and life from the Great Depression to Generation X.
Several characters appear repeatedly throughout the book; Wesley Weatherly gets the most stage time. Readers see him first as a child in New Orleans during two influential incidents involving his father. One happens at Mardi Gras, where his father confronts three men in rooster costumes who catcall Wesley’s mother. The other is at his uncle’s ranch in Texas. There, Wesley’s father confronts an uncle who threatens a black field hand over a perceived slight concerning the uncle’s wife. Wesley feels a mix of resentment and admiration for his father, for his capabilities and his righteousness. That paradigm is at work throughout Girault’s stories. There are no heroes, especially when it comes to love and war. The supposedly fearless, emotionless ship captain in “Dragon In the Box” comes up short in a pivotal moment in a boar hunt. In “Hands,” a Navy man tried to adjust to civilian life and finds he only feels like himself after he’s solved a situation with violence. Wes himself is often haunted by his past—by the woman he left in Australia in “The Nymph of Nullarbor”; by survivor’s guilt when a blast throws him free of his ship during a kamikaze attack; and by his naiveté about war when his own son becomes a veteran in “Souvenirs.” “You Must Remember This” is an antidote to glorifying war, starting with the opening line, “How do you tell your Generation X granddaughter that you were not a heroine in World War II, and that the head nurse called you Nurse Beaver?” Girault’s stories aren’t strictly slice-of-life, but they aren’t necessarily morality plays, either. The characters have epiphanies about their lives and actions, but that’s not the same as having resolutions. They are fully formed and complicated, brooding and laughing, philandering and generous in spirit. Though he does occasionally succumb to a corny line (“Dragon in the Box” begins with, “Don’t call me Ishmael. I was only the ship’s photographer.”), Girault’s prose is clean and often vivid. And each story can become a game of looking for how it is related to its predecessors.
An engaging, worthwhile collection of connected stories.