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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tim Gautreaux Isn't Famous, But He Should Be


Short story writer extraordinaire, Tim Gautreaux
It's easy to exaggerate when talking about a favorite writer. Back in 2008, I wrote: "Tim Gautreaux, in my not so humble opinion, is perhaps our greatest living short story writer."

A lot can change in five years. I've read many more stories since then.

But I still think Tim Gautreaux is America's greatest living short story writer. I still believe that his stories, which often address moral questions, are as close to perfection as it gets, devoid of navel-gazing and the meandering non-plots favored by some of his peers. More importantly, to me anyway, they are stories that  linger in the mind as well as the heart. (Think Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge.)

If you don't believe me, trust the editors of the prestigious Best American Short Stories anthology, who selected five of his stories for inclusion between 1992 and 2000, including my favorite, "Welding with Children." In that story, the title story in his collection of the same name, a welder whose daughters keep dropping off his grandchildren so that they can go out carousing is torn between resentment towards his daughters, whom he admits he didn’t always do right by when they were young, and his desire to better the lives of his grandchildren, who desperately need a responsible adult in their lives. Here's the opening:

“Tuesday was about typical. My four daughters, not a one of them married, you understand, brought over the kids, one each, and explained to my wife how much fun she was going to have looking after them again. But Tuesday was her day to go out to the casino, so guess who got to tend the four babies? My oldest daughter also brought over a bed rail that the end broke off of. She wanted me to weld it. Now, what the hell you can do in a bed that'll cause the end of a iron rail to break off is beyond me, but she can't afford another one on her burger-flipping salary, she said, so I got to fix it with four little kids hanging on my coveralls."

Did I neglect to mention that Gautreaux's stories are also laugh-out loud funny? Other stories in Welding with Children feature a priest with a drinking problem who is conned into returning a stolen car; an 85-year-old woman who attempts to foil a thief called "Big Blade" with her chicken stew; and a minister who attends a writing conference where he discovers he does indeed have talent only to . . . well, let's just say that the ending is a surprise and the story a cautionary tale about vocation that lingers in the heart and mind.

Because I'm a book geek, I dream not of a favorite sports team winning its season but of the day Tim Gautreaux wins the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the meantime, I'll be hosting a discussion of the book Welding with Children. You can sign up for the discussion at the 3rd floor Readers' Services desk. To read the rest of the story "Welding with Children," first published in The Atlantic Monthly, click here.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for spreading the praise for Tim Gautreaux. I discovered him from reading the Best American Short Stories series. His stories were appearing there pretty regularly and now I have vowed to read everything he has written. I actually sent a copy of Welding With Children to my college English Professor. Looking forward to attending your discussion.
Patrick Reninger

Laura A. said...

Glad to hear from another Gautreaux fan. Sending a copy to a college English professor is high praise indeed! I look forward to hearing your thoughts at the discussion.

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