And now for one of my FAVORITE books of the entire year:
A freak accident forces a New Yorker to return to Louisiana and confront her Cajun past
There is nothing more dangerous than a spooked rhinoceros. It is just before lunchtime when Huey, the prized black rhino of Broussard, Louisiana, erupts from his enclosure, trampling a zoo employee on his way to a rampage in the Cajun countryside. The incident makes the rounds online as News of the Weird, and Katherine Fontenot is laughing along with the rest of her New York office when she notices the name of the hurt zookeeper: Karen-Anne Castille-her sister.
Fifty years old, lonely, and in danger of being laid off, Katherine has spent decades trying to ignore her Louisiana roots. Forced home by Karen-Anne's accident, she remembers everything about the bayou that she wanted to escape: the heat, the mosquitoes, and the constant, crushing embrace of family. But when forced to confront the ghosts of her past, she discovers that escape might never have been necessary.
Anyone who has left the South, especially Louisiana, and felt that familiar tug of wanting to return, and not being able to find a decent crawfish boil, will be able to instantly relate to this book! Course post-Katrina, your odds are better nationwide, but it's still a chore! Ken knows his Louisiana- his characters tread nuances of good and bad, of city and country, of religious and 'lost'. If you have family in the South, you will instantly recognize characters from the family tree and surrounding fields, the subtle shades of civility, like the funeral wake meal of Popeye's chicken, sausage, deli platters and cakes from Walmart, or arriving at the airport and taking a rental car and your family asking which way you are traveling home, and then telling you you took the long way when you get there. If you live in the South, you just nodded your head and smiled, because you've been there, you've eaten those foods/had that conversation! Ken calls eating your 'weight in Popeye's' the first stage of grief in Louisiana. The second stage is doing the same with boudin (sausage)-though different areas change that to jambalaya or the proverbial funeral ham. the third stage involves meeting waves of friends and family members, all trying to figure out when the lat time you met, or how you are related!
The tale is enriched and guided by the Southern codes and norms- you sense the things that are coming, but you can't put the book down you are so enraptured in the tale. The story is more than just a tale of coming home, you are forever changed when you leave. The person who comes home is not the same. Sometimes for the good, sometimes not. Like dominoes, the leaving affects those who stay in ways that are never shared with the one who left. It is a story of family, of trust, of finding what matters most in your heart of hearts. You'll find yourself laughing at the last line, smiling and wishing for more adventures with the Fontenot family. Ken has created a jewel of a novel, that you won't soon forget. If there is one book you read that I have recommended, make it THIS one!
About the Author
Ken Wheaton was born in Opelousas, Louisiana, in 1973. Raised Catholic and Cajun, Wheaton aspired to one day be a navy pilot but was sidelined by bad eyesight and poor math skills. He graduated from Opelousas Catholic School in 1991 and went off to Southampton CollegeLong Island University in Southampton, New York, intending to study marine biology. An excess of drinking and (again) a dearth of math skills led him to become an English major. From there he returned to Louisiana, where he received an MA in creative writing from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now University of Louisiana-Lafayette).