(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie OCT 5, 2004)
"Many vowed to vote his ass right out of Baton Rouge the very next opportunity. Give another fool a chance, and any man named President Prejean had to be a fool for sure. So far as they knew, President was not yet a crook, but they acknowledged at his filling station, there wasn't much opportunity. Also, they were prepared to accept a little stealing his first term or so. But they didn't want him rubbing their faces in it."
Gus Weill perfectly captures the Cajun culture, rich as a delicious gumbo, the musical patois, and the extraordinarily eccentric characters of Louisiana backwater Richelieu Parish in 1956, where rampant political corruption and petty theft is a way of life. This is a town where the locals look-up to those who cheat with success. Author Weill examines the resemblance of this tiny town to a large dysfunctional family, which somehow manages to get through life's tribulations with a little help from each other - in spite of themselves.
State Senator Papoot Gaspard, a local, has become a legend in his own time. He could have invented the concept of graft. His daughter Bebe, once beautiful, now obese, is a simple, loving woman married to town sheriff, Bobby Boudreaux. She eats uncontrollably to calm her libido. Bobby doesn't get turned-on by fat women. In a town of devout Catholics, Papoot's son, Father Justin, is the most righteous. Mayor Big Head Arceneaux; wealthy Big Shot Fontenot and his father, Li'l Shot; powerful lawyer Hurphy Perrault who has a club foot which no one notices because he is so rich; Bad Ass Thibodeaux, the town drunk; Catfish Francois, cook extraordinaire; Possum Aucoin, the town barber who presides over all important parish business; One Lung Savoy, poolroom doyen; gas station owner President Prejean, (yes his first name is President), a man with definite political ambitions; Misty, the local Madame and her business partner, Ballou Sinistere; local DJ NaNa Duhon and his ever present papoon, Lucky, also populate the novel. The Cajuns is worth reading just to bone up on the antics of these characters.
The Cajuns, however, is more than a character and cultural study of life in rural Louisiana, mid-20th century by an author who has always been deep into Louisiana politics. With all its humor and satire, there is a mystery and a poignant, moving drama. Former resident and New Orleans newspaper reporter Ruth Ann Daigle comes home to Richelieu to care for her dying father, owner of the local paper. She is super smart, sexy and sophisticated - so she sure stands out in Richelieu. Ruth Ann has never been one to mind her own business, which is why she excels as a reporter. She manages to vex her fellow citizens, soon after her arrival, by persistently inquiring into the supposedly accidental death of a local teen. Sheriff Boudreaux, who could be called the town's conscience, is at first resentful of Ruth Ann's continuous questioning. Then he becomes interested in joining her, in spite of his fear of alienating his powerbroker father-in-law, State Senator Papoot Gaspard. Long repressed feelings and urges ignite between the two as their investigation progresses.
Although the novel's pace plods at times, especially in the beginning, the characters are fascinating, funny and occasionally tragic. The mystery and conflicts are quite timely and relevant, over fifty years after the action takes place. I am glad I stuck with the book. It is worth it. Recommended!
- Amazon readers rating: from 1 review
Read a chapter excerpt from The Cajuns at SimonSays.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Paradiddle (1974)
- A Woman's Eyes (1976)
- The Bonnet Man (1978)
- The Führer Seed (1979)
- Flesh (1990)
- The Cajuns (August 2004)
- You Are My Sunshine: The Jimmy Davis Story (1977)
- The Weill side of Louisiana Politics: Gus Weill Remembers (2001)
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- Louisiana State Archives on Gus Weill
- Gambit Weekly review of The Cajuns
- Creative Loafing review of The Cajuns
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About the Author:
Gus Weill was born in Lafayette in one of the few Jewish Cajun families. He attended Louisiana State University and upon his graduation in 1955, he underwent special training, rising to the rank of 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps and serving as a Special Agent in Frankfurt, Germany. His 1957 honorable discharge eventually brought him back to the arena in which he is best known -- Louisiana's political public relations. From 1964 to 1968 he served as Executive Secretary to the Governor of Louisiana, John J. McKeithen. Over his career he served as political consultant to four of Louisiana's last six governors, he has influenced the political careers of many prominent Louisianians, among them James Carville. In fact, Weill has worked with more than 350 political campaigns during his lengthy career. Writing The Cajuns, he said, allowed him to fictionalize some of his favorite political episodes.
In addition, Weill has achieved notable success in the literary realm. A published playwright whose produced works include "To Bury A Cousin," "Geese" and "Parents and Children," he worked for two years under famed American film producer Otto Preminger and also served as a Visiting Professor at LSU in both Playwriting and the Division of Honors and Interdisciplinary Studies. Weill has also published several novels, poems and a biography. Numerous awards, including induction into the Alumni Hall of Distinction of Louisiana State University and Stanley Drama Award from Wagner College, New York, attest to the high standard of his journalistic and creative achievement on both the local and the national level.
Weill now lives in New York City.