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Tim Gautreaux: The Next Step in the Dance

You would think that all the love stories have been written, probably by nineteenth century novelists and here comes Tim Gautreaux, a late twentieth century American and, with his first novel, produces a very fine love story. Paul Thibodeaux is probably the best-looking man in Tiger Island, Louisiana, and Colette the best-looking woman, so it was inevitable that they would get married. But this was not a marriage made in heaven. Paul liked two things – machinery and having a good time (which meant drinking, fighting and dancing). Colette was not averse to a good time but she did not share Paul’s idea of a good time. Moreover, she was ambitious – ambitious for herself (she worked in a bank) and ambitious for Paul, who was happy to work with machinery. When Paul had one too many good times and Colette heard (as everyone heard everything in such a small town) that Paul had been seen helping Colette’s cousin into his truck in rather a too friendly manner, she took off for Los Angeles.

But Paul loved her and he too went off to Los Angeles. Colette had a good job in a bank and Paul, though out of place in Los Angeles, managed to get a good job looking after old machinery. But Colette was still not playing along and they led separate lives but, inevitably, things got out of hand and one night of passion led to Colette’s getting pregnant. But Los Angeles is a wicked, wicked place and she was fired when she smacked her boss after one too many roving hand and Paul was fired when he proved to be too honest.

Back home in Tiger Island, Colette had her baby but was still not having much to do with Paul. However, the economy was going down the tubes and neither could find a job till Bucky Tyler (who Paul had earlier beaten up) offered her a job as a cashier at his waste disposal plant. Colette started to get friendly with Bucky till he went too far and tried to kill Paul. Colette, after making sure Bucky was sent to prison for breaking every anti-pollution law on the books, devoted herself to helping Paul, who was in a pretty bad state. Gradually, by working hard, she managed to make a living for Paul, herself and their son and get Paul back to life. Gautreaux does an excellent job here because it could easily have been mawkish but, by focusing on Colette and her activities and travails, he avoids this. Paul was finally better but he was nearly killed in a storm when out fishing – indeed he was missing for several days, till his aging grandfather managed to find him – and Colette finally realised how much she loved him and how much more important their life as a family was than making it financially.

Of course, this sounds like a sloppy soap opera and I nearly did not read it for that reason but Gautreaux handles it all very well, never letting it become a soap opera. He does it by focusing on externals and not on love talk and love thoughts and also by having an excellent cast of characters – the aforementioned grandfather, Paul’s friend Etienne, the Larousse twins Victor and Vincent – all good old boys Louisiana-style, but it is the characters of Paul and Colette that make this novel, as they struggle to find what is important and what love really means.

Publishing history

First published 1998 by Picador