Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Second Chances: Patterns of Failure and Redemption in Tim Gautreaux's Same Place, Same Things

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Second Chances: Patterns of Failure and Redemption in Tim Gautreaux's Same Place, Same Things

Article excerpt

In a contemporary review of Tim Gautreaux's first book Same Place, Same Things (1996), a collection of short fiction, Suzanne Berne perceptively observes that "most of the characters ... live in a swamp of repetitive mistakes and disappointments." These characters, whom she classifies as "emotionally stagnant people," become involved in situations where the "dramatic tension centers on whether they'll seize a last chance to inch out of their particular quagmires" (16). Focusing principally on blue-collar whites, usually southern Louisiana Cajuns, these stories feature characters whose lives, Rand Richards Cooper points out, are "harshly circumscribed by poverty, under-education, and alcohol" and whose "world in which work--when it can be found--alternates petty humiliations with spectacular mishaps" (24). Moreover, Gautreaux's Louisiana is "rough around the edges ... a tough place, where it's hard to make a living" (Larson, "Writer Tim Gautreaux," D-I).

Gautreaux, born in Morgan City, Louisiana, has been a life-long resident of the state, except for his years as a graduate student at the University of South Carolina at Columbia, where he received his Ph.D., and a brief stint as writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi. A self-proclaimed advocate that "a writer has a duty to get in touch with his culture" (qtd. in Masciere 47), Gautreaux, in all his principal works--the stories of Same Place, Same Things and of Welding With Children 0999) and his two novels, The Next Step in the Dance 0998) and The Clearing (2003)--uses southern Louisiana as his fictional domain, particularly the society of blue-collar Cajuns, many of whom are devout Roman Catholics with strong family ties. In fact, on several occasions, he has proudly pointed out his own family's working-class background: his father, a tugboat captain; his grandfather, a steamboat chief engineer; and his great-uncle, a master mechanic (Masciere 31).

Concerning Cajun culture and its durability, Gautreaux confesses, "I am amazed by it. The lack of cynicism--I don't know, maybe it's the Catholicism or the sense of family among Cajuns. Acadian emigrants showed up in Louisiana between 1765 and 1785, and they clumped together and remained an ethnic entity where many other groups lost their identities" (qtd. in Levasseur and Rabalais 33). Therefore, it seems quite natural that Gautreaux in his fiction has principally portrayed a class and ethnic group he knows personally and intimately.

Though in a number of ways Gautreaux has, through his education and personal experiences, transcended his Cajun working-class roots, he has always drawn on and, by his own admission, will continue to mine the rich lode of subject matter, character types, colorful dialect, and the lively storytelling tradition associated with the south Louisiana Cajun cultural milieu that has shaped him and that continues to hold his interest. While many of the characters in Same Place, Same Things are misfits, Gautreaux treats them sympathetically. Perhaps such compassion may in part be attributable to his Catholic background and the Catholic dominance in southern Louisiana. In an interview with Katie Bolick and David Watta in 1997, Gautreaux acknowledged that he viewed himself "to be a Catholic writer in the tradition of Walker Percy" as well as a moralist, asserting that "if a story does not deal with a moral question, I don't think it's much of a story" (4). In another interview in 1998 he further explained, while acknowledging writers "h[ave] a type of ingrained, almost instinctual interest in a theme," that in his own fiction "[themes of moral dilemmas and redemption] come out more or less subconsciously" (qtd. in Masciere 31). And indeed, as we will see, his short fiction addresses issues involving moral decisions and their consequences.

In the title story, "Same Place, Same Things," for example, Harry Lintel, a widower with grown children who enjoys the freedom of mobility to follow droughts and who prides himself in having the ability and confidence to "fix any irrigation pump or engine ever made" (3), is self-absorbed and standoffish. …

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