Read Beans On Monday: The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux


The Clearing

by Tim Gautreaux

On the Book Riot podcast, which I listen to while driving between Florida and Louisiana, they frequently ponder and discuss how readers choose books, as though it’s always a deliberate process. As I try to market my own novel I’m also trying to crack this code though I know from experience that it’s often merely random chance. Such was the case with Tim Gautreux‘s The Clearing. Gautreux has been on my radar for a while, though it’s his book set in New Orleans, The Missing, that several local writers have recommended. Recently, though, I was perusing the stacks at McKeown’s Books & Difficult Music where my friend was sadly clearing her stock for the store’s close when I stumbled on a copy of The Clearing, her only remaining Gautreaux offering. At $1, how could I pass it up? It turned out to be a happy bit of serendipity.

Set in the once-virgin Cypress forests south of New Orleans in the decade after the first World War, The Clearing is a story of [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday Special Guest Post: Jeremiah’s Scrapbook by Eric Sarrett, Reviewed by Margaux Fragoso


Jeremiah’s Scrapbook

by Eric Sarrett

Jeremiah’s Scrapbook begins in the wake of a disastrous labor strike that resulted in murder and then delves into all the misunderstandings and human failings that lead up to this kind of catastrophe. Sarrett’s novel is first and foremost about the way tragedy continues to resonate within the human heart; the way memory is both a gift and an ailment to the one who has loved and lost. Love changes the psyche, by both hardening one’s innocence and also paradoxically, by returning one back to a state of joyful renewed innocence. Anyone who is a fan of Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove, understands that love and memory are inseparable; love can’t exist without being filtered through the distortions of memory first.

Sarrett is a literary writer but he also knows how to tell a compelling story; he has an inherent understanding of the human dramas that drive the larger, more political ones. Jeremiah, the novel’s emotional center, is an ultra-conservative, retired West Virginia miner who Sarrett tells me is based off his own grandfather (Sarrett grew up in West Virginia). Like all forms of economic exploitation, mining is a complex form of trauma, both to its workers and their family members, and even to the police and reporters involved in the violent consequences of the strike that begins Sarrett’s book.

But like life, tragedy also occurs alongside comedy and comedy inexplicably thrives in states of sadness. The need to laugh when sorrow is at its strongest is one of the most universal human drives. Sarrett has a brilliant sense of how to balance these two extremes—some scenes are hilarious such as the refreshingly gawky and sexually naïve Matthew, an aspiring chef who is also Jeremiah’s grandson, awkwardly rejects the lascivious advances of a very drunk Carol, a reporter covering the strike. Carol is also drawn into romantic relationships with a police officer Christian Pike investigating the strike and with Junior, a married miner, and her indelicate bull-in-a-china-shop personality drives much of the emotional action in the middle of the book.

Watching the pain of community members and friends who are all affected by the recent government shutdown of 2013 and by cuts made on food stamps and unemployment, it might seem difficult to find common ground with ultraconservatives who think like Jeremiah—who believe liberals are babykillers that encourage kids to have sex (Jeremiah yells these views at Carol in a funny early scene at a diner). It’s tragic that Jeremiah fails to see how those whom he supports politically actually augment the suffering that his close friends and family experience. And it’s a comic irony as well: Jeremiah often appears foolish and vulnerable to the reader because of that foolishness, because he can’t see the paradox inherent in his own thinking.

It’s up to the sensitive reader in the end to try and reconcile the contradictions Sarrett raises through his characters. Though Jeremiah’s Scrapbook has the edginess of a psychological thriller, it is ultimately more: a love story, a rendering of the way love and memory unite in the mind to engender sentiment. This fast-paced but always thoughtful novel will give you plenty of time to make up your own meanings. It will continue to ripple through your mind long after you finish the last page.

fragoso_1_8_10_107Margaux Fragoso was born and raised in urban New Jersey. She holds a PhD from Binghamton University. Her poems and fiction have been published in Margie, Barrow Street, The Literary Review, and Big City Lit, among other literary journals. Her essays have appeared in The George Eliot Review and NPR and she has recently written a book review for The New York Times. Her memoir Tiger, Tiger has been named a best book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, The Washington Post, and Globe and Mail and has been published in twenty-five countries and translated into twenty languages, including Catalan, Romanian, Japanese, French, German, Chinese, Latvian, and Spanish. In September 2013, it made the Prix Medicis longlist and was listed for two other French prizes: The Fnac prize and JDD/France. She currently lives near New Orleans with her family and is working on a novel.




Read Beans On Monday: Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite



by Poppy Z. Brite

For a previous Read Beans On Monday I reviewed Prime by Poppy Z. Brite, the second in a line of books detailing kitchen culture in New Orleans restaurants. Having picked up that book at random (it was the only one checked-in at the library), I found it a fascinating read and commented that I couldn’t wait to go back and read its predecessor: Liquor. I’m glad to announce this week that, if anything, Liquor is a superior prequel to the fascinating Prime.

The strength of Prime was its glimpse into the lives of those who work behind the scenes to keep the ever-present party in New Orleans alive, yet, being the second in this series, Brite felt the need to add a little of a mystery to the mix to keep the plot moving. Although intriguing and well constructed, I’m not a big fan of climatic brawls and/or gunfights that often work in movies but usually let me down in literature. Liquor, however, focuses on the process of the two protagonists, Rickey and G-man, working with a wealthy celebrity chef who’s taken an interest in them (an Emeril by any other name, I’d venture to speculate) and decides to invest in/assist them open an upscale restaurant called Liquor where the namesake is an ingredient in every dish.

Sometimes Rickey and G-man’s path to success seems a bit too fortuitous even though Brite tosses many obstacles in their path to push the narrative along, and the guidance of their benefactor take an uncomfortably dark turn near the end, but a few minor flaws in no way dampen my overwhelming enthusiasm for this tale. Plenty has been written about the extravagance and indulgence of the New Orleans upper crust, yet all of this revelry rides upon the backs of the cooks, servers, and musicians (and writer?! Lol) that barely make a living wage. Thus, Brite’s peek behind the swinging doors of those opulent dining rooms is priceless. I’ve never read Dinner at Antoine’s, but I’ve gobbled up Brite’s tomes on gastronomic goings-on like steaming plates of Oysters Rockefeller. I always was more a Grapes of Wrath than Great Gatsby guy, anyhow. The tribulations of the people interest me much more than the malaise of the privileged.

I can’t attest to how well Brite’s Rickey and G-man series will stand the test of time. The language isn’t poetically seductive nor the themes complexly intertwined. Brite‘s prose is, however, compulsively readable without feeling simplistic or spoon-fed, and the portrait he paints is vividly planted in the here & now. I don’t know what more I can say about these books. They may not be the best New Orleans novels I’ve read, but with their glimpse at the gears that keep this eternal party rolling, they strike me as perhaps the most New Orleans.