cover image Signals


Tim Gautreaux. Knopf, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-451-49304-0

Gautreaux channels Flannery O’Connor with a soupçon of Elmore Leonard in this collection of stories, many set in Louisiana, most featuring people of Cajun descent sliding down the socioeconomic scale, chasing dreams in a last-ditch effort to escape the nightmare of defeat. The first story, “Idols,” sets the tone with the tale of a typewriter repairman who inherits a rundown mansion. He hires a carpenter (one of several Gautreaux characters—furnace man, exterminator, piano tuner—with a gift for fixing things). This carpenter needs money to pay for removing his tattoos, which his wife calls idols. The home-restoration project stalls when the homeowner runs out of money and the carpenter tattoos. In “Radio Magic,” a renovated radio receives stations worldwide, allowing its owner, another doomed dreamer, to listen to old comedy routines broadcast from the Solomon Islands. “Gone to Water” focuses on an old man navigating through a recent oil spill. “Sorry Blood” portrays an 88-year-old who, unable to remember who he is, digs a ditch for the man claiming to be his son. A priest (“Attitude Adjustment”), a Texas car thief (“Easy Pickings”), and a boy from Kentucky (“Died and Gone to Vegas”) all seem “a few thimbles shy of a quart.” Gautreaux’s landscape is watery, his language fluid, his characters stuck in a world where, as one promising orphan puts it, what would be nice and what will happen are usually two different things. Agent: Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Jan.)