In this moving collection of short stories, James Lee Burke elegantly marries his flair for gripping storytelling with his lyrical writing style and complex, fascinating character portraits. The backdrop of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast is a versatile setting for Burke's stories, which cover the scope of the human experience -- from love and sex to domestic abuse to war, death, and friendship.
The 11 previously published stories in this strong collection showcase Burke's handling of familiar themes and places, minus the trappings that accompany his popular Dave Robicheaux or Bill Bob Holland novels. The inevitable marriage of war and atrocity is powerfully described in the very brief Vietnam War tale, "The Village." The title story, one of two dealing with Katrina and its aftermath, shows the lasting damage of war on survivors. Both "Winter Light" and "A Season of Regret" feature disillusioned, stoical academics, loners coping with the encroachments of cruder society. Most wrenching and affecting are several coming-of-age tales: "Texas City, 1947" depicts brutalized children and contains a surprising dýnouement; "The Molester" and "The Burning of the Flag" both feature childhood friends from the WWII era confronting bullies or demons. Burke demonstrates impressive range, sensitivity and polish in these smaller-scale gems. (June) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
June 04, 2007
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Excerpt from Jesus Out to Sea by James Lee Burke
Chapter One: Winter Light
He lived alone at the head of the canyon in a two-story log house that controlled the access to the national forest area behind his property. His house was built up on a slope above a creek that flowed down from a chain of lakes high up on the plateau, and from his writing desk at his second-story window he could look out over the wide sweep of valley below and see the snow blowing out of the ponderosa on the crests of the hills and the sharply etched tracks of deer that had gone down to drink in the stream during the night. He could also see the long black scar of a road that wound its way up from the interstate, past the one working ranch left in the valley, to the foot of his property, and finally to the public woods behind his house.
The sunlight was red on the snow, the shadows already purple in the trees, the wind colder and flecked with ice crystals against the window glass, and he knew the hunters would be there soon. They almost always came in the late afternoon, because it was only a ten-mile drive from town and with a little luck they could get in a few shots before the official close of the hunter's day thirty minutes after sunset.
He was fifty-eight and he had taken early retirement from his position as a literature professor at the university, but he had no interest in the activities of retirement or people his own age. Most of his friends were college students, and in one way or another his property always seemed marked more by their presence than his: tepee poles stacked against his toolshed, the willow-stick outline of a sweat lodge by the creek, a communal vegetable garden whose rows were now frozen into iron ridges.
A red Toyota jeep, as bright against the snow as a fire engine, ground in four-wheel drive up the road, then slowed as the driver and his passenger peered through their ice-streaked windows at the signs fastened to the trunks of larch trees at the foot of the professor's property:
This Is A Private Road
But they drove on anyway, and he met them outside his door, with a cup of coffee in his hand, in his worn corduroy pants, lace-on boots, and flannel shirt. He had played basketball for LSU, and he was tall and angular, bareheaded in the wind, his skin red and coarse with the cold.
He was not unkind to them. He never was. Sometimes he invited them inside; usually they simply went away, confused or mildly irritated. But these two were different. The passenger had a dark light in his face and wore an untrimmed beard and spit regularly in the snow. His hands were square and big and seamed with dirt, and he opened and closed them impatiently. The driver was a fat man who wore three shirts that hung outside his pants, galoshes, a neon-orange hunter's vest, and a narrow skinning knife in a scabbard on his side. He smiled while he talked, but his eyes did not go with his face.
The professor, whose name was Roger Guidry, listened to the driver talk, his slender fingers wrapped around his coffee cup, his head nodding absently as he scraped at the snow with the tip of his boot. Then, when the overweight man had finished, he said, "You can walk in from the other side and hunt, if you want."
"The other side?" the driver said.
"How far a walk is that?"
"Fifteen miles," the driver said, nodding his head up and down. "Fifteen miles in snow, you're saying?"
"I told you we're bow hunters. We're not going to put a bullet into somebody's house or shoot somebody's cows."
"I know that."
"Listen -- " the driver said.
The passenger hit him on the arm and said, "Forget it. Let's go."
"Just a minute," the driver said. "You're telling me to walk fifteen fucking miles through snow?"
"It's your choice."
"I've heard about you."
"Oh?" Roger said.
"Yeah. I just didn't know it was this canyon."