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Eleven richly varied stories from the Louisiana author (Same Place, Same Things, 1996; The Next Step in the Dance, 1998), who is rapidly becoming a major American writer. Gautreaux’s offbeat characters and infectious storyteller’s tone put you in mind of Eudora Welty in a John Deere cap, or maybe Flannery O—Connor before she got religion. Many of his people seem too tenderhearted for their own good, such as “The Piano Tuner” whose unconventional friendship with a traumatized reclusive woman can—t save her, but ironically confirms his own hopefulness; or the camera-shop employee (in “Misuse of Light—) whose recovery of old photographs threatens to destroy a young woman’s life . . . until he hits on just the right lie to tell her. With few exceptions (the allegorical “Rodeo Parole,” a laconic Louisiana-gothic counterpart to Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Lottery” is a stunning one), these stories feature people who persevere and get by—in muted fashion, like the hapless grandfather (of “Welding with Children—) who combats his grandkids” casual vulgarity with Bible stories; or the elderly stroke victim (in “Sorry Blood—) who’s exploited by a worthless loafer but endures through sheer will to live and an ingrained resiliency—or even more definitively, like the feisty Mrs. Landreneaux (in the droll “Easy Pickings—), who outwits a peabrained burglar with the help of her matter-of-factly courageous neighbors; or likable Iry Bordeaux (in “Dancing with the One-Armed Gal—), fired from his job at the icehouse and on the road westward, where he picks up a disabled lesbian academic hitchhiker, whose dismissal from her job occasions several delicious conversational exchanges (—That’s a bitch.—/ . . . “Yes, well, I wouldn—t put it in exactly those words—). You find yourself hoping Gautreaux will put Iry into a novel sometime, and just let him rip. But whatever direction this greatly talented writer turns to next, you—ll want to follow him every step of the way.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20308-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999


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