My first, but certainly not my last Tim Gautreaux. This is story telling at its best. Set in prohibition Louisiana not long after WW 1, the main character Sam, home from war, takes a job on a rough, tough river boat plying the Mississippi as a pleasure steamer in an effort to find a little girl stolen from a New Orleans department store while he was on duty and therefor held responsible.If he finds her the miserable old b-----d who owns the store may reinstate him, but the real driving forces are his wartime experiences and the tragedies in his own life. He befriends the child's parents who scrape a living on board as entertainers and general dog's bodies. There is drinking and violence on the old tub "The Ambassador" and even more when he forages ashore for leads on the abducted child.Then just as you think that it is coasting along to comfortable ending a whole new detailed adventure emanates from one of the original themes and how well this sequence is written; it could stand alone as a first class short story. I, in fairness to potential readers, can not reveal any more of the principal plot nor of the secondary tales which unfold and absorbed my interest to the last page.
This is the Wild West set in the deep south. The characters good, bad ,weak, strong and in some cases downright, disgustingly evil are drawn in detail. The technical descriptions of the paddler, the music and life on and off the river are convincing and enlightening.
This is not the river of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer. This is an altogether different scene. I would rank this with Larry McMurtry's best work, Pulitzer prise winner "Lonesome Dove", for raw frontier characters and a gripping yarn. I can not pay a higher compliment to a work of American fiction.
A 5 star must buy.
A superb novel, at least as good as Gautreaux's earlier work, "The Clearing". It begins with Sam Simoneaux, a Cajun, landing in France on Armistice Day, and his unit is assigned to clear unexploded ammo from 2 square miles of battlefield. They have no training, and they take casualties. One day they find an old French artillery piece, and they decide to fire it at a large pile of shells they've stacked up. Instead, they hit a house, killing all its occupants save for a young girl. Sam befriends her, but of course there is no way he can do much for her. There are tens of thousands of orphans all over France.
Soon, we find out why he took such an interest: his family were murdered in a revenge attack when he was six months old. His father had saved his life by throwing him into the iron stove just before he was killed, and his uncle found him the next day. Although his uncle and aunt proved loving and wise parents, and he never found out about his real parents until he was six or seven, he always knew that somehow he wasn't quite the same as the cousins he was raised to think of as brothers and sister.
The main story starts a few years after the war, when Sam is married and working as a floorwalker in a department store (which sounds exactly like one I worked for in Michigan in 1959!). He likes his job, and is looking forward to a promotion, when a young couple tell him their 3-year-old daughter, Lily, has gone missing. Sam starts looking right away, but fails to order the doors locked in time; when he finds the girl having her hair cut in a dressing room on the fourth floor, he is hit from behind and rendered unconscious. Four days later, when he recovers enough to go into work, he gets the sack. The owner of the store tells him he can have his job back if he finds the girl.
For most people, this wouldn't be sufficient motivation to leave one's loving wife without any money and embark on a year-long quest. He signs on as third mate on the Ambassador, a decrepit Mississippi stern-wheeler where Lily's parents work. Lily is a precocious singer, so the theory is that whoever stole her must have seen her on the boat. The Ambassador makes a lot of money offering romantic days and evenings afloat, introducing America to black musicians and New Orleans jazz. Patrons bring aboard moonshine, and one of Sam's first jobs is to ensure that all knives and guns are checked in before customers board. He is one of the crew members responsible for breaking up fights. But wherever they land, Sam gets ashore to find out if he can a lead on Lily.
That's enough to get you started. Buy the book--I'd be very surprised if you regretted it. I may be a bit biased--I grew up in Michigan, and the deep south has long been a source of endless fascination. There were still a few Civil War veterans alive when I was young. And for all the propaganda you get about the deep south, I fell in love with it when I got to know it. Gautreaux evoked my memories of hot summer nights before the days of air-conditioning--when you sat out on the porch in the dark, drinking lemonade and listening to the crickets. Although this will be lost on Britons, this is a wonderfully atmospheric book, and one which will register with musicians everywhere. But most of all, it's a superb novel about what it means to grow up without parents, and why families are so important. It's also a very wise novel about revenge--the surest way to compound an injury is to become obsessed with revenge.
on 10 June 2009
This was the third novel I have read by this author and, in my opinion, he goes from strength to strength.
That's not to say that the first was poor. In fact it was excellent so unbelievable that he can continue to improve.
It's one of those books you can't wait to finish but when you have you're actually sorry that it's over and want to go onto his next.
I've just bought his collection of short stories and even before I've started I know they'll be great.
Not to be confused with other stories bearing this title, “The Missing” refers not only to the abduction of a small girl called Lily, but also the psychological effects of family loss both on her and on Sam Simoneaux, the young French-speaking American who dedicates himself to finding her. Nicknamed “Lucky” for having landed in France off a US troopship just after the armistice which brought World War 1 to an end, Sam’s good fortune runs out when he loses his cushy job as a Louisiana department store “floor-walker” because of his failure to prevent the kidnappers from escaping with their prize. His attempts to find Lily, and to come to terms with his own past, form the core of this novel.
“The Missing” is a good “old-fashioned” yarn, in that it has a strong, straightforward plot with plenty of twists and tense or moving moments. It stands out for the quality of the writing: “…the train was pulled off the lurching ferry…., handed over to a greasy road locomotive, and proceeded west through poor, water-soaked farms into a reptile-laced swamp where virgin cypresses held up a cloud-dimmed sky……from one of the new aeroplanes the railroad would look like a flaw in a vast green carpet”.
Apart from creating this vivid sense of place, Tim Gautreaux is good on the development of Sam’s character, as he gains insights into dealing with both grief and revenge. The author must also have undertaken a phenomenal amount of research to produce the detailed descriptions of life in the 1920s on Mississippi paddlesteamer leisure cruises, where skilled black jazz musicians won over their local audiences, often cracking deep southern prejudice in the process.
If forced to criticise this impressive and absorbing novel, I would say that it is probably too long, insufficiently ruthless in rooting out superfluous, more mundane details, whilst omitting some areas of interest to the reader such as how Sam came to marry his long-suffering wife, Linda, or what befell some of the villains of the piece. I was in fact unconvinced that a strong, capable man like Sam would have found it so hard to gain employment other than working on the paddlesteamer, or that Linda would have accepted with so little complaint Sam’s long absences, in particular when he could no longer claim that they were necessary to find Lily. Some events are “told” rather than “shown” as in the case of the personalities and motivations of Lily’s captors. Also, despite some grim events, the story lapses at times into American-style corniness and slapstick punch-ups, but manages to take an unusually sophisticated approach to the issue of “revenge”. I now plan to read “The Clearing”…….
on 8 May 2011
Do you want to take a trip aboard a pleasure steamer on the Mississippi in 1920s Louisiana? Do you want to meet the singers and musicians, the river pilots and the engineers who keep the whole (very shaky) enterprise afloat and provide entertainment up and down the river in the summer months?
Tim Gautreaux has skilfully recreated a lost world of the Mississippi - and a world that had me fascinated from start to finish. The storyline is simple - Sam Simoneaux works in a department store in town when a child goes missing in the shop whilst he is on duty. As a result, Sam loses his job. He is told, however, that he can have his job back if he finds the child. The child's parents are a singer and a musician, working on the steamboats that steam up and down the river, stopping at the towns en route so that partygoers can come aboard and drink, dance, fight... until the boat returns to shore and they can go back to their normal lives. Sam joins the crew and thus we too follow his progress upriver in search of the child.
I loved the detail of the boat and the detail of people aboard, I loved the landscape which Sam must travel in order to locate the child. I loved the frontier feel - where law and justice don't mean quite the same things, where life comes cheap. Yet there are wise people too and Sam is pulled between both sides. We follow his choices.
This is an original read and one to recommend to people who have enjoyed Annie Proulx's writing.
on 15 November 2013
Read this a while ago, but didn't get round to reviewing it at the time. I had read some good reviews for Missing, and am a fan of "period" fiction from the late 19th/early 20th Century (Ron Rash, Joseph O'Connor as well as the more obvious McCarthy, Woodrell, Gay etc), and often find that authors are very keen on authenticity to such an extent that the characters are more flawed/tortured than not.
Other than the very engaging plot about life as a musician/bouncer on a Mississippi Riverboat, the thing I liked most was the central character who retained his essentially good and trusting nature, even as he had been dealt a rubbish hand for most of his life. The upbringing he received from his father's brother and family, following the murder of his family went some way to explain how had turned out so well.
There are a number of very entertaining episodes in the book, and "Lucky's" interaction with the kidnappers and their customers are very well written and compelling.
Can't recommend it highly enough.
This story wonderfully evokes life just after the First World War in the Southern States of America. We meet Sam initially when he has signed up and been posted to France to fight, but fortunately for him, when he arrives the war is over and he is sent to clean up war-torn fields. The descriptions here beautifully illustrate the futility of war, and the awful experiences of those who were unlucky enough to have been caught up in any war. In particular, Sam would be just about the last person to be sent to fight as he is a true pacifist. We learn early on that he has been bought up by his uncle after the tragic murder of his family, but even so his uncle has instilled in him the values of humanity, and the pointlessness of revenge. I would consider Sam to be a pacifist, and definitely not a coward as others would try to make out. He is a good man, and as the story unfolds of the kidnap of the little girl and all the repercussions that follow he always tries to do the right thing. This does lead to a moral dilemma, where he makes a decision that is not his to make, which leads to major ramifications. In all that happens it is the power of the people who are missing that have so much effect on those who are there.
on 9 January 2016
A reasonably atmospheric evocation of life on the Mississipi for a small band of musicians and the protagonist's attempt to make good an earlier misjudgement. But the characters are cardboard thin and the plot meanders on and on and on ...like the river. The Clearing, his previous novel, much more carefully plotted and better written, is far superior. That one is worth reading, whilst I felt I had perhaps wasted a little bit of my life by persisting with this one. Thank you, Mrs Curry.
on 25 January 2013
This book has everything, human relationships, fascinating historical background and a strong sense of place, but threaded through all this is a moving story of a man who has suffered huge loss through an act of brutal inhumanity and who is enabled to come to terms with his own childhood trauma through his literal search for a lost child.
I came upon Tim Gautreaux by accident - I am now anticipating his other books with pleasure.
on 5 July 2012
The description of this book enticed me to buy it but I wasn't completely ensnared. Very descriptive but so slow that I found it a bit tedious.I love books set in the South, slow moving & humid (read William Gay). I couldn't empathise with the main character,he seemed stiff & unreal,but hey, I'm no writer!