Welding with Children

Tim Gautreaux, Author
Tim Gautreaux, Author Picador USA $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-312-20308-5
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-312-26792-6
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-312-42879-2
Ebook - 224 pages - 978-1-4668-3393-7
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The 11 stories in Gautreaux's second collection (Same Place, Same Things) are energized by compassion, perception and antic humor, but occasionally hobbled by didactic dialogue and stilted characters. The title story, however, is a gem, a moving tale more subtly styled than many of the others. It centers on Bruton, a working-class grandfather in Gumwood, La., whose four unmarried daughters drop off their kids, ""one each,"" for him to babysit. He's humiliated when his neighbors call his car the ""bastardmobile,"" and horrified to realize his grandchildren know nothing about moral behavior save for what they've gleaned from TV and their parents' bad habits. Bruton emerges as one of Gautreaux's best-realized characters, a blue-collar Cajun railing against changes in the rules by which he was brought up. ""Misuse of Light"" is another likable story where sentimentality is skillfully managed. A camera salesman develops a 40-year-old roll of film and unearths a family scandal. ""Resistance"" depicts the tense interplay between an aging neighbor, a 10-year-old whose science fair project is due, and her sullen, rage-filled father. This dark comedy, like the tale of a priest's struggle with booze, ""Good for the Soul,"" is, however, compromised by a contrived conclusion. The title character in ""Dancing with the One-Armed Gal"" is a hitchhiker with a whiny monologue about identity politics within academe: she's a women's studies professor who's been fired from her post because, as a one-16th African-American, part Mexican, one-armed lesbian, she wasn't marginal enough, and she's now searching for another affirmative-action position. Other characters in this uneven but often absorbing collection bespeak the author's own compassionate engagement with social and ethical dilemmas; his impulse to moralize, however, may make readers feel manipulated. Agent, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Oct.)
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