Reading Tim Gautreaux…

3 Feb

6b850004-35f8-4819-b902-ac73d851a3efIn this dark time of the Bedlamite reign, I have found it useful and necessary to modulate my attention to the nightmarish absurdities daily presented in the unending toxic digital shitstream— of course, relying on a tried and true standby—reading*. This morning I delved into the new collection of short stories, Signals by Tim Gautreaux, that the kind peeps at Random House were kind enough to send me.

I was privileged to conversate** (sic )with Tim a few years back, a conversation that you can find anthologized in University Press of Mississippi’s excellent “Conversations with…”***



Here’s a snippet from that chat:

RB: If you were currently living in Seattle would you be writing about the bay and the ocean, the mountains or about mangrove swamps and alligators and Cajun fisherman?

TG: You’ll notice that when I gave the little North Dakota spiel I said, “If I had been born and raised in North Dakota…” Wherever you are born and raised tends to have profound effect on your fictional world. I don’t know why. Ernest Gaines left Louisiana when he was sixteen. And the only fiction he writes that seems to be really powerful and effective and moving is fiction that is set in Louisiana. And he knows this and he has tried to write about California and San Francisco, where he has lived, by this time probably as much or more than he has lived in Louisiana. And it just doesn’t seem to work for him. He has said this himself. One reason he has come back to Louisiana in his later years and is living there at least half the time is so that he can write and get in touch with what matters to him— the rhythms of speech. The music of the language around him and the feel of the weather. It’s in his bones. We are talking about a man who really didn’t write at all before he left here. He never thought he would be a writer. But everything that has magic to it in Ernest Gaines writing stems from a period before he was sixteen years old. I think that is the same with me. You really learned every thing you need to know about human nature directly or indirectly by the time you are fifteen or sixteen. You know what your family history is, what your structures are, whether you are paying attention to it or not, what their values are. And, of course the language of your region and all that is in your literary bones, so to speak. You know the cadences of the relatives’ parlance and you can go somewhere and you can live a long time, and it just doesn’t ring true. I used to spend summers with my sister out in California. In my first novel, The Next Step in the Dance, which did really well, I had a long section in Los Angeles, and my editor, who was originally from Los Angeles, said she found it unconvincing, “No, the Louisiana stuff is fine and has heart, but this LA stuff is kind of one dimensional. Let’s trim it back.” And trim it back. And trim it back. And finally, the novel, which was maybe thirty per cent in California, was maybe seven percent.


Tim Gautreaux [PHOTO:Robert BIRNBAUM]

The story ,”What We Don’t See in the Light”,  the last of the  22 in state environment (as well as the horrors of a landscape despoiled by the chemical industry) , But additionally, as the protagonist’s health problems impel him to move to remote New Mexico, that Mars-like landscape is rendered vividly in crystal clear images. “What We Don’t See in the Light”, is a story laden with humor, substantial characters, attention to the small acts that comprise long marriages, and a steady narrative arc ending in an unexpected place —which is a good recipe for good reading.You might even say it’s a bitter-sweet love story—the best kind.



*  The New Yorker rounds up what their writers are reading

** Talking with Tim Gautreaux

*** Conversations with Tim Gautreaux 


One Response to “Reading Tim Gautreaux…”

  1. hdinin February 11, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

    RB, You and Gautreaux chatting produced this observation from him:

    Wherever you are born and raised tends to have profound effect on your fictional world. I don’t know why.

    Perhaps you’d both be interested in the ancient Roman theory of the so-called “genius loci” pertinent to all matters cultural and, if this must be separately defined, anthropological… In France, it’s what they call “terroir” and determines how people speak the language, to how they make cheese, to what the wine tastes.

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