Great stories from the Deep South

Tim Gautreaux

Currently I have a yearning to visit the southern states of America. The reason for my desire to see myself sipping whisky on the desk of a Mississippi paddle steamer rather than taking my holidays in a caravan in Bognor is entirely down to the efforts of the author Tim Gautreaux.

I stumbled across a book of his short stories a few years ago and since then I have come to read all three of his novels, all of which I think are fantastic stories which transport you into a world of moonshine, logging barons, railroads, violence and romance.

The books are set in the southern states and focus on the lives of people living in and around the Mississippi river. The more recent books, The Clearing and The Missing, are both set just after the conclusion of World War One and the mental scars the conflict caused is a theme that runs through both books.

The Clearing tells the story of two very different brothers in charge of an environmentally-unfriendly logging firm that gets embroiled in a dispute with the local mafia. Inter-racial and father-son tensions are thrown into the narrative as well as fantastic scenes involving snake attacks and saloon destruction.

The Next Step in the Dance, his first novel, is more contemporary and set in the grinding poverty of the Mississippi delta where at one point the main character starts shooting huge “water rats” for dog food in a bid to maintain an income for her family.

But The Missing is a terrific tale that starts off with the kidnap of a young girl and develops into a great story of paddle steamers, railroads, bandits and revenge. Unlike so many books which disappoint me with their endings this tale has a beautiful and poetic conclusion.

All of his books have an interest in mechanical objects such as steam engines and saw mills, but that in no way means the complexities of human relationships are overlooked in any way. Interviewed about his books he was asked what messages he was trying to deliver and to his credit he said he didn’t really have one; he just wanted to write great stories – and that is exactly what he has done.

next stethe missingThe clearing

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