Tim Gautreaux, Author . Knopf $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-375-41474-9

A godforsaken mill town in the cypress swamps of Louisiana is the setting for a bitter power struggle in this darkly lyrical, densely packed second novel by Gautreaux (The Next Step in the Dance). In 1923, Raymond Aldridge sets out for the mill town—called Nimbus—in search of his brother, Byron. The two men are the heirs to a Pennsylvania timber empire, but ever since Byron came back from World War I, he has shunned his family. Before the war, he was a charming young man with a charmed life; now he works as a constable at the Nimbus mill and listens obsessively to sentimental popular tunes on his Victrola. When Raymond arrives, he assumes charge of the mill, which his father has purchased, and tries to understand how and why his much-admired older brother has come to this pass. Their reacquaintance is complicated by Byron's feud with a gang of Sicilians who control the liquor, girls and card games that make up the only viable entertainment in town. In battling them, Byron has turned as ruthless as they, and killings are as common as alligator sightings in Nimbus. The violence turns even deadlier when three women are mixed up in the fray: Raymond's feisty wife, Lillian; Byron's sturdy wife, Ella; and May, Raymond's almost-white housekeeper, who gives birth to a son who looks remarkably like an Aldridge. Gautreaux's prose is gorgeous, though his virtuosic images ("a nearly blind horse... its eyes the color of a sun-clouded beer bottle") sometimes pile up precariously, threatening to teeter into overkill. The novel adroitly evokes the murky miasma and shadowy half-light of the treacherous Louisiana swamps, their gloom and murderous undercurrents echoing the grisly wartime slaughter Byron is unable to forget. Gautreaux is perhaps the most talented writer to come out of the South in recent years, and this all-enveloping novel further confirms his skill and powers. Agent, Peter Matson. (June 24)

Reviewed on: 05/26/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Paperback - 373 pages - 978-0-340-82890-8
Open Ebook - 218 pages - 978-0-307-42825-7
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-1-4000-3053-8
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