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Chibiabos83

Group Read: Tim Gautreaux - Waiting for the Evening News

This is the place to discuss Waiting for the Evening News.
chris-l

It was suggested earlier that we should focus on just a few of the stories, but of course, until we have read all of them, it will be hard to pick which ones. I think I am about halfway through now, and the two stories so far that stand out for me are 'The Courtship of Merlin LeBlanc', and 'People on the Empty Road'. That is not to say that I could not find something to say about the others, just that those two made most impact.
Chibiabos83

In that case shall we start at the beginning and work our way through? If people haven't got time for the whole book they can pick and choose.
Castorboy

I think most of us are reading more than one book at a time so I would prefer to read all the short stories, make a personal choice of the best half dozen, and then be ready for the discussion on July 7th or any date others find convenient.
Chibiabos83

I'd certainly be willing to read the whole thing.
Jen M

I think I will read them in order, and see how far I get.  I have read the first one and am happy to read more.

It is good not to have the pressure of completing a whole book so as to avoid spoilers in the discussions.  But I expect to be able to read all the stories by 7 July.
chris-l

It just occurs to me that 7th July is the very day I head off to France. My online access will be very spasmodic for the ensuing 3 weeks, so I may not manage to join the discussion as much as I might have hoped. Never mind, I am enjoying the stories, and have discovered a new author, so much to be said on the positive side.
Chibiabos83

Well, let's discuss sooner than that, then. Does it make sense to aim for a particular date, or to post stuff as it occurs to us? Perhaps there would be a more lively discussion if we set a single date. We could perhaps bring it forward a week, or even two - Monday 23rd June, or Monday 30th? (7th July seems quite a long way off now - I only suggested it because at the time I thought Jen couldn't start reading the book until July.)
chris-l

Honestly, I don't want the whole thing to be changed for my convenience. Maybe if I post something just before I go away, then try to read and maybe respond if and when I can, it will work out fine. We do have Wi-Fi on the campsite, but it can be a bit elusive!
Jen M

I am happy for the date to be moved forward as it would be good for Chris to be able to contribute.  

As they are short stories, it doesn't matter if we start discussing them before some of us have finished the book.  Perhaps we could start on 23 June, but only discuss the first (say) 10 stories, then on 30 June allow the next (say) 5, etc?   There are 23 altogether; if we leave discussing them until the end we might forget which is which!

I have read two stories, won't have much time for reading this weekend, but should be able to get to 10 by 23 June.
Chibiabos83

Very happy to go along with that.
chris-l

Me,too.
Castorboy

I am on my fifth story so reaching 10 by June 23rd will be a breeze Ė now Iíve started I canít stop.
Chibiabos83

chris-l wrote:
I think I am about halfway through now, and the two stories so far that stand out for me are 'The Courtship of Merlin LeBlanc', and 'People on the Empty Road'. That is not to say that I could not find something to say about the others, just that those two made most impact.

Six stories in, I am of entirely this opinion. Looking forward to discussion soon.
Sandraseahorse

I've finished it.  I feel almost as if I've been greedy and scoffed a whole box of chocolates in one go.  It's been a long time since I enjoyed a book of short stories - or any book - so much and I'd like to thank Jen M. for recommending it.
Castorboy

My sentiments entirely - I never expected to be so overwhelmed by the sheer display of various experiences and emotions which I feel everyone has seen in their own life. Superb.
Jen M

Sandraseahorse wrote:
I've finished it. †I feel almost as if I've been greedy and scoffed a whole box of chocolates in one go. †It's been a long time since I enjoyed a book of short stories - or any book - so much and I'd like to thank Jen M. for recommending it.


I'm delighted this book has gone down so well - the credit must go to Iwishiwas, who recommended Tim Gautreaux to me when I wanted some suggestions of books to read when I was visiting Atlanta.  

I am enjoying these too and will join in the discussion next week, however far I have got.
iwishiwas

I'm glad to see Waiting For The Evening News has been well received. I didn't realise that it also contained all the stories from Welding With Children until I bought the Kindle edition. I love the writing, so evocative and detailed with plenty to dwell upon during and after reading.
Chibiabos83

Excuse me for getting the ball rolling a little ahead of schedule, but I may not have time to post much tomorrow. (We're an international lot, so I dare say it is already tomorrow for some of you.) I'm about 2/3 of the way in (14 down, 9 to go), and so should finish in two or three days with a favourable wind behind me.

Thanks to Jen and Iwishiwas for suggesting the book. It took me a while to get into the world Tim Gautreaux's characters inhabit, but as I've gone on I've been more and more impressed, and some of the stories are quite superb. If I have a favourite so far, it's probably 'Returnings', the story of a bereaved mother who helps a lost Vietnamese pilot navigate back to his barracks. I found it unspeakably poignant, and full of the little acts of kindness that appear in many of the other stories in this anthology, which often deal with people who are down on their luck and trying to fix things that have gone wrong, or to atone for their past misdeeds.

There are recurring themes in these stories. One is intergenerational relationships, especially relationships with one generation missing -- 'Little Frogs in a Ditch', with Lenny, abandoned by his parents, acting against the wishes of his grandfather to sell pigeons to credulous people; 'Welding with Children', with a man taking care of the four children of his four unmarried daughters and trying to work out the best way to fight the values they have learned from violent films, trash TV and magazines; 'The Courtship of Merlin LeBlanc', which features five (!) generations of the same family, people who love each other but find their relationships tested, and (again) worrying about bringing up a baby with an absent mother. I assume the Louisiana society Gautreaux writes about, and must know inside out, is like this. My own knowledge of this area of the USA is sketchy and picked up from probably unrepresentative films like Walter Hill's Southern Comfort, a film about a bunch of arrogant guardsmen being picked off by hostile Cajuns. I found the French language that creeps into the dialogue more evocative of place than anything else, probably because I already had this association in my head - the French language and the bayou.

There's also a heavy emphasis on machinery, in almost every story in fact. I wouldn't have noticed it if it hadn't irritated me at the start. If there is one story that I didn't like in the collection, it is 'Navigators of Thought', which has several incompetent ex-academics trying to pilot a tugboat. They get into trouble and one of them drowns trying to save the manuscript of his book. It's a wonderful idea for a story, and might have been comic and poignant in equal measure, but I thought the comedy and sadness were both diffused by the protracted descriptions of their boating procedures. There are other stories in which the machinery is instrumental to the plot, like the tragic 'License to Steal', in which drunkard Curtis tries to get a job in a sawmill but destroys a car, and, by implication, his own life. In 'Welding with Children', the decision to get rid of an engine block hanging up in his yard is symbolic of the narrator's turning over a new leaf to provide a better life for his grandchildren. Machines are important to this world, and provide a livelihood for many of the characters.

Just a handful of thoughts that have occurred to me, anyway. Would anyone like to discuss particular stories? Do you have favourites (or least favourites)?
chris-l

I am happy to see that you have got the discussion going! I haven't posted for the past few days, because I have been away, with little internet access, but that has given me time to read through all the stories.

I agree with you about the themes, especially the family aspect. It seemed to me that this was quite unusually presented most often from a male perspective: we all too often look upon. 'family' as being a female preserve, but the crucial role, for good or for ill, of the man is very forcibly presented. That was, I think, what first struck me about 'The Courtship of Merlin LeBlanc'. Many of you who have been on the board for a long while, will know that I am a great admirer of John Updike. I always loved his work because he seemed to deal with aspects of life that I recognised. I was a little startled when someone once questioned why I liked him so much, asking 'Isn't he a bit blokeish'. At first, I thought that was an absurd idea - he has some wonderful female characters - but eventually, I did come to see that much of his fiction revolved around the dilemma of how a man should behave in modern society. This seems also to apply to Tim Gautreaux. Obviously the geographical and social setting here is very different from Updike's New England, but I do see similarities.

The other aspect of these stories which surprised me somewhat, was the extent of humour. Sometimes, they are almost laugh out loud funny, despite the grim settings. 'The Piano Tuner' could almost have been, in parts, a Buster Keatonesque movie, and 'Easy Pickings' had a strong element of farce (while still examining the role of the male!). Sometimes the humour arises from the self-deception of the characters, often from  their inability to properly control the machinery, which, as Chib has noted, is present one way or another in most of the stories.

I won't say much more for now, but I do look forward to hearing the impressions of others who have read these stories.
Sandraseahorse

I too found "Navigators of Thought" disappointing.  It seemed a contrived set-up and appeared to be heading towards farce rather than tragedy.   But there were only a couple of stories in the collection that failed to engage me.

My two main thoughts are, first,  how engrossed I became in the stories in just a couple of pages.  I remember once trying to persuade my book group to do a short story collection and one woman said she always found short stories "thin" and wanted something to really get into.  With this selection I was really gripped by the characters' dilemmas.

The second aspect is how much compassion there was in the stories.  I found myself drawn to characters that probably I wouldn't immediately warm to; the reckless young  driver, the drunken train driver who has made a terrible error of judgement.  Gautreaux doesn't sanitise all of his characters; they are still liable to utter the occasional racist remark.  But we empathise with the characters' situations.
Jen M

I have read 7 so far, and all but one, Died and Gone to Vegas, have engaged me very quickly.  Rather like the woman in Sandra's book group, I don't usually find short stories very satisfying, but I am very much enjoying these.

I did like Navigators of Thought.  I found it both poignant and funny, and the descriptions of boating procedures didn't bother me.  I liked it that the team did save the boat, as they were instructed, although at huge cost to one.  I found myself wondering what I would have done in that situation (not that I am an academic with my life's work in one manuscript).

I think my favourite so far is The Bug Man. I was initially shocked at his treatment of the 'Slug' family, but at the same time understood it.  Again, I wondered what I would have done in a similar situation (and also again, one that is not likely to arise).

So, yes, I can identify with the emotions and reactions of the characters; ordinary people struggling against circumstances and making the best of things, as we all do to an extent.
Castorboy

Sandraseahorse wrote:
My two main thoughts are, first, †how engrossed I became in the stories in just a couple of pages. †I remember once trying to persuade my book group to do a short story collection and one woman said she always found short stories "thin" and wanted something to really get into. †With this selection I was really gripped by the characters' dilemmas.

The second aspect is how much compassion there was in the stories. †I found myself drawn to characters that probably I wouldn't immediately warm to; the reckless young †driver, the drunken train driver who has made a terrible error of judgement. †Gautreaux doesn't sanitise all of his characters; they are still liable to utter the occasional racist remark. †But we empathise with the characters' situations.

I experienced the same reactions - all the stories made me think, and I must decide which are my favourites.
Chibiabos83

I've now finished the collection. Thanks again to those who recommended it. As has been mentioned, this is actually two sets of short stories, originally published separately, now in an omnibus volume. If I were an editor I could easily trim it down to a favourite ten or twelve.

Short stories, being short, have to make their mark. One way of doing that is to have an arresting opening. I didn't always feel that with these stories, and it often took a page or two for my mind to focus (which may be my shortcoming, not that of the stories). Another way is to have a satisfying ending, and there were quite a few stories in this collection that made me sigh with admiration as I got to the end, just because they felt so absolutely right. I'm thinking of 'Resistance', for instance, where an old man helps his neighbours' daughter with her science project. The girl's father is a brute. He insinuates that the old man may be a paedophile, and trashes the science project the night before it is due in. The old man stays up all night remaking the project, as once his own father did for him. He presents the girl with it the following morning, and she takes it without thanking him, just as he failed to thank his father. The story ends with him going to his father's grave and giving thanks. I can't think who wouldn't be moved by the circularity of this man living the actions of his own father, two generations later. I dare say it's a simple enough device for a writer to use, but in this instance it's very well done.

The reason I say I could cut the book down by about half its length is partly because some of the stories were just too bleak in their resolution for my taste. True to life, I'm sure, but not as I would have liked them. That was the case with 'The Pine Oil Writers' Conference' (among other stories), where a minister who dreams of being a writer has an epiphany on a residential course when one of the tutors says he is the best new writer she's seen for years. He doesn't write another word, and his roommate makes a fortune writing pulpy thrillers. There's so much hope in Gautreaux's characters that I want things to work out for them -- as Sandra says, he inspires you to feel compassion for the less likely characters as well as the more likely -- and sometimes they do, but often they don't. Occasionally there was a story like the ghoulish 'Rodeo Parole' that was too unpleasant for me, not that I have a particularly weak stomach. Can anyone enlighten me as to its message? It felt like a fable.

Sometimes the story ends with a twist, something pleasingly unexpected. In 'Good for the Soul', a tipsy priest is asked to go and read a dying man the last rites. He crashes into a parishioner's car and breaks her arm, and has his licence suspended. He is then prevailed upon to steal a car in order that it can be returned to its owner anonymously, which he does partly out of the goodness of his heart and partly because he is too ashamed to admit he isn't allowed to drive. He gets caught by the police and is scorned by the people who once respected him; but then he sees the dying man in the congregation, who has never set foot inside the church before, and perhaps that means his trials have been worth it after all. That's a distillation of the plot that doesn't quite represent the feeling of poetic ... not justice, exactly ... but there is a feeling once more of rightness, that some kind of divine order is at work, and if it's not a fairytale ending then it is at least an ending where things are brought into alignment, if not in the way you'd expect.
Castorboy

I have only read ten stories with my favourites being The Courtship of Merlin LeBlanc and The Bug Man. The main, and very subjective, reason for those two choices was the way the men were made to feel concern for or were passionate about the welfare of a baby. Totally believable from my point of view as a grandfather.  In the first that concern came from the great-grandfather who established the needs of the baby, and was going to ensure that Merlin would care for and realise what a joy he could anticipate by nurturing the baby girl. While in The Bug Man it was plain that Felix and Clarisse desperately wanted a child but it wasnít to be on account of a racist woman.

Iím not sure what to make of the first story. Nine of the ten stories are based in post WW11 America concentrating on the male perspective and action whereas the female takes up the more passive or a bystanding role e.g. neglected wife, runaway girl friend. Very rarely is the woman shown taking an aggressive stance except in Little Frogs in a Ditch where a swift punch flattens the selfish Lenny. So it comes as quite a surprise in Same Place, Same Things to a story set in the Depression. Here the man is the one who is passive while the woman is, I think, a serial killer intent on escaping a life of boredom on farms, and wanting to travel anywhere as long as itís 100 miles from where she is at present. Is this the only Depression story in the collection or is Gautreaux using it to indicate that women can also be violent, can become irrational if times are hard, that the men folk on rural properties need to consider the womanís needs? For whatever reason, it prepares us for the subsequent absorbing stories.
chris-l

I was a little puzzled about the summing up of Mrs Malone in 'The Bug Man' as 'a racist woman'. I have reread the story in order to see if I had missed some clues about a racial element. Certainly the bug man has dark hair and eyes and Mrs Malone seems to be a blue-eyed blond, but I could not detect anything that suggested a racial difference. Differences of social class, education and economic status are certainly evident, but, unless I am being very obtuse, no evidence of any divide of race.

Certainly she seems to be a snob, but I think there is also an element of not wishing her child to be brought up by someone known to her, within the local community, where she might be frequently reminded of what she had lost. The latter sentiment, at least, did not seem to me to be wholly unreasonable.

It was a very poignant story: the couple who longed for children with  no hope of fulfilment of their dreams, the woman who found herself unwillingly a parent, and the family with numerous children, with no notion of how blessed they were. All of this could be extended to cover so much in life, in the way that those who have are unaware of their good fortune, while those who have not are powerless to change their position. It is by no means a simplistic tale: Felix and his wife prosper on a material level, and achieve a significant level of fulfilment in most aspects of their lives. It is simply in the way that means most to them, their wish to have a child, they are doomed to disappointment.
Castorboy

You are right chris - I used the wrong word, it should have been a xenophobic woman because she tells him the baby wouldn't be like him, a Frenchman. She continues that it would be cruel to give the child to him.
Your summing up is correct; it is far from being a simplistic tale for all the reasons you have given. Now I am reading the next five stories in the book.
iwishiwas

Sadly I am lagging behind, will try and read a few more tomorrow!
Chibiabos83

Don't worry - I'm sure the discussion will go on for a while longer. I'm still mulling over the stories in my mind and will try to think of something interesting to say at some point (not always easy) Smile

Thanks all for your contributions so far - very interesting.
Jen M

I'm still working my way through these, still enjoying them, but on looking at the list of titles, find I can't remember what some of them were about.

On the subject of race, I too was puzzled about Castorboy's comments about a racist woman in The Bug Man. †I realised that I don't know much about the racial make-up of Louisiana, so I did a bit of googling. †For those who don't know (and I didn't) the Cajuns are French Canadians from the part of Canada known as Acadia (say "Acadian" quickly and you will see...). †According to Wikipedia (and I know Wikipedia can be unreliable), the Cajuns are a distinct racial group.

The following interview with Tim Gautreaux is interesting:
http://www.southernspaces.org/200...cartographer-louisiana-back-roads †He says he doesn't write about race, he writes about people. †

I wonder whether Mrs Malone is simply aware of the differentness between herself and the bug man.

I will come back to the discussion later.
chris-l

Yes, I think it is a feeling of  'differentness', but also of superiority. It is significant that both she, and the lawyer who is the father of her child, have British names, so are presumably of Anglo-Saxon descent (although purists would probably say their names are Irish and Scottish, so arguably Celtic). The Cajuns are of French descent, so a distinct cultural, if not strictly racial, community. Complex relationships, in any case.
Castorboy

Jen M wrote:
The following interview with Tim Gautreaux is interesting:
http://www.southernspaces.org/200...cartographer-louisiana-back-roads †He says he doesn't write about race, he writes about people.

That was an illuminating link on him, Jen. There is so much information about his life from which he has drawn his characters plus the literary comments that I will have to read it all again when Iíve finished the book.
Chibiabos83

Thanks for reviving this thread, Castorboy. I've been away for a week without regular internet contact, but will be back soon. I'll have another look at the notes I made as I read Waiting for the Evening News and see if there's anything else I can think of to say.
Castorboy

I think Chib has highlighted for me one of the motifs of the stories Ė the fundamental human goodness of the characters. Take the kindness of the mother in Returnings where she helps the Vietnamese pilot return to his base. She didnít have to help the pilot but she did, and felt happy about it; or in Deputy Sidís Gift where a middle-aged man arranges for his old car to be donated to a derelict younger man via the local cop, Sid. The car isnít worth much but I feel it is a tangible object to prove he is not unfeeling towards the no-hopers of his community; Welding with Children is a lovely feel-good story in which a grandfather makes a decision, a gift of love, to tidy up his cluttered backyard which in turn is a symbol of his intention to keep his grandchildren on a moral path before they become corrupted by the rubbish on TV. One feels that when he reads them a bedtime story it will include The Ten Commandments; Another tangible object, a developed film, given as a gift to a young woman is at the heart of Misuse of Light. Even though his gesture causes her unhappiness, instead of ignoring her plight he perseveres till he restores her to sanity; While the actions of the priest in Good for the Soul may be part of his pastoral care, and land him in trouble with the law, he takes delight in the appearance at a church service of the man he served.  

To me, these five stories are examples of a writer who understands human nature, and uses it to create believable people in realistic circumstances in his home state of Louisiana.
Castorboy

Chibiabos83 wrote:
Short stories, being short, have to make their mark. One way of doing that is to have an arresting opening... Another way is to have a satisfying ending, and there were quite a few stories in this collection that made me sigh with admiration as I got to the end, just because they felt so absolutely right. I'm thinking of Resistance, for instance, where an old man helps his neighbours' daughter with her science project. The girl's father is a brute. He insinuates that the old man may be a paedophile, and trashes the science project the night before it is due in. The old man stays up all night remaking the project, as once his own father did for him. He presents the girl with it the following morning, and she takes it without thanking him, just as he failed to thank his father. The story ends with him going to his father's grave and giving thanks. I can't think who wouldn't be moved by the circularity of this man living the actions of his own father, two generations later. I dare say it's a simple enough device for a writer to use, but in this instance it's very well done.

The reason I say I could cut the book down by about half its length is partly because some of the stories were just too bleak in their resolution for my taste. True to life, I'm sure, but not as I would have liked them. That was the case with The Pine Oil Writers' Conference (among other stories), where a minister who dreams of being a writer has an epiphany on a residential course when one of the tutors says he is the best new writer she's seen for years. He doesn't write another word, and his roommate makes a fortune writing pulpy thrillers. There's so much hope in Gautreaux's characters that I want things to work out for them... Occasionally there was a story like the ghoulish Rodeo Parole that was too unpleasant for me, not that I have a particularly weak stomach. Can anyone enlighten me as to its message? It felt like a fable.

I agree with you, Chib, about Resistance and TPOWC, and I canít add anything else  of note.

As to Rodeo Parole I can only think the message is that desperate prisoners will do anything to shorten their sentence. In one case Rex Ted accepts that he will be crippled Ė a punishment he is willing to endure in exchange for a parole into the community. In the other case the murderer, knowing that he would never be released from prison, lets the bull kill him rather than do the obvious and commit suicide in his cell. I found it the one story in the collection which didnít have any sympathetic characters to wonder about.
I liked the opening of Dancing with the One-armed Gal where I was led to believe the man is a slacker with his head full of dreams of life as a cowboy. When he loses his job he drives off to the west and Texas. On the way he gives a lift to a woman who dreams up a personal history in order to obtain another teaching post. It is a mini road-trip tale with at least the possibility of a happy ending for the man.

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