Facing conflict, Gautreaux’s (The Missing, 2009, etc.) working-class characters try to do the right thing in 21 new and selected stories set in Louisiana and elsewhere.
Gautreaux’s stories—like many of the cantankerous characters in them—exude a sort of grudging optimism about the human condition. In “Deputy Sid’s Gift,” a nursing home worker calls the police on a homeless man for stealing his truck but slowly experiences a change of heart. “Resistance” is about an old man’s attempt to help a neighbor girl with her science project, over her drunken dad’s objections. And in “The Furnace Man’s Lament,” the well-meaning title character takes a recently orphaned teenager under his wing, with an unexpected result. The stories here are often hopeful but never saccharine, thanks in part to Gautreaux’s knack for dark comedy. “Sorry Blood” is about an incompetent layabout who kidnaps a confused old man from a Wal-Mart parking lot to help with yardwork before the kidnapper’s wife gets home. (The description of the kidnapper, who first appears “eating a pickled sausage out of a plastic sleeve and chewing it with his front teeth,” is among the book’s many highlights.) In “The Review,” a “low-level accountant” goes to extreme lengths to track down the community college professor who gave his debut novel a one-star Amazon review. The only flaw in this fine collection is its length: with so many exemplary stories, the weaker pieces stand out; “Easy Pickings,” about a thief’s ill-fated attempt at robbing an old woman, and “Died and Gone to Vegas,” set over a card game in the engine room of a “government steam dredge,” both feel, at times, a bit jokey compared to the other offerings. Still, given the number of superb stories here, this is just a quibble.
Gautreaux’s deft wit and empathy for his characters make for a winning collection.