A stranger’s sexual assault of a Louisiana girl has unabated repercussions for the victim as well as her family in this debut novel.
Five-year-old James Gauthier, named after her grandfather, convinces her family to spend the weekend at the Louisiana State Fair in 1972. Tragically, a depraved individual snatches her, an attack that leaves her seriously wounded but alive. James is understandably shaken, but her family—her parents, Matthew and Jessie; and older brothers, Deux, Remy, and Luke—is likewise affected. There’s a strain in the couple’s marriage, and the children are withdrawn. Matthew equates James’ assailant with the rougarou, a legendary Cajun werewolf his grandmother often worried about. As years pass, James suffers panic attacks. Preferring the company of animals to people, she heads to Texas, where she studies to become a veterinarian. It’s there she meets Charles “Cat” Thomas, who’s been raising his little sister, Leah, since their parents’ deaths. Cat is immediately smitten with James, and the fact that she isn’t ready for a relationship doesn’t decelerate his pursuit of her. Unfortunately for both, the rougarou, who has never stopped thinking of James, has somehow found her in Texas and is waiting for his chance to strike. Beasley aptly develops numerous characters in her tale, which spans decades and even includes backstories for Cat’s and James’ respective parents. Readers also gradually learn of the rougarou, but there are stretches of narrative focusing on Cat or others with no sign of the titular villain. This, however, is the story’s greatest strength: It shows that a single traumatic event, like a young girl’s rape, reverberates for years. For example, Deux’s becoming a cop and Luke’s enlisting in the Army are choices influenced by what happened to their sister. Measured prose makes the melodrama (various couplings or people threatening a particular relationship) thoroughly absorbing. Nevertheless, intermittent sex scenes, while electrifying and tasteful, eventually become repetitive, with a man typically dominating a submissive woman.
A stirring, character-driven story that derives genuine suspense from lingering fear and uncertainty.