The lyrics of a Cajun waltz may be dark as midnight with heartache and trouble, but still the music swings. The same goes for what happens after a shifty musician and a lonely shopgirl let destiny sweep them into an ill-suited marriage in swampy southwest Louisiana on the eve of the Depression.
Love doesn’t much figure between Richie Bainard and Esther Block. They build a business together while dreaming opposite dreams of fulfillment. But like a gumbo simmering with peppers and spice, desires finally come to a boil.
Three generations of the volatile clan grapple with the region’s economic struggles and racial tensions. The Bainard children, twins Bonnie and R.J. and their half-brother, Seth, pursue separate cravings for money, sex, and religion. The chase in each case runs off the rails thanks to an ex-marine with a soft heart and a brutish devotion, a dazzling young stepmother of mixed race and mixed motives, and a high school tart who proves tougher and truer than all of them. Ultimately it takes the mass devastation of Hurricane Audrey in 1957 to cleanse the reckless passions. The aftermath is painful but pure, like an old blues song that puts tears in your eyes while you dance.
“Rare Treasure: Sweeping Family Saga Delivered with Economy”
Five Star Review on Amazon By W. Ames Holbrook
Been a long time since Robert Patton has given us a novel, and I’ve been so taken by his nonfiction that I didn’t mind the layoff. However, with Cajun Waltz, Patton demonstrates why fiction, even fiction carefully scaffolded around real characters and events, is where stories take off for real. Right off the bat, Patton is to be commended for having delivered a rare gift in a multigenerational family saga that is strikingly concise. Historical family novels have a habit of wandering (thinking popular Michener, Wouk, Follett – even Steinbeck got expansive in East of Eden), but Cajun Waltz manages to be both sweeping and spare, and the result is a dazzling achievement. Loose ends are tied up (oh, and beautifully, but I will get to the ending), questions are answered and conflicts resolved with the economy of a tight thriller. This concise novel deserves better than to be praised with a wordy review, but I can’t help throwing out a few more lines about what makes Cajun Waltz so special. This is not a novel with good guys and bad guys. In this novel you simultaneously pull for and against every character on the page, and, if you ever get the feeling you like somebody all the way, get ready, because he or she will make you angry soon enough. Here is Patton’s true gift – he makes you care about the characters, even as every woman and man reveals a selfish and flawed (at a minimum) or corrupt (more typically) core. Cajun Waltz carries a grim worldview, but you believe every minute, and, like the characters in the book, you keep waltzing to each progressively darker turn, until all the light is (literally) blotted out of the story. On that note, it needs to be said – with no spoiler alert necessary – that the climax, during which a hurricane bears down on the remaining characters in their little Louisiana town, is a piece of unforgettable writing with details that will captivate during the read and haunt forever after. Those pages by themselves are worth the price of the book, and Cajun Waltz packs so much more.
About the Author
Robert H. Patton’s new novel, Cajun Waltz, a family saga set in southwest Louisiana in the first half of the 20th Century, is now available from Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Press).
His previous book, Hell Before Breakfast, a non-fiction history of American newsmen-adventurers in 19th Century Europe and Central Asia, was published by Pantheon in 2014 and is available in paperback from Vintage.
Patton’s current project is a series of historical novels centered around the world of colonial privateering chronicled in his acclaimed history, Patriot Pirates. The series features naval warfare, international intrigue, and the colorful money-madness of privateering during the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. Look for Book One of Jackals & Foxes from Thomas Dunne next year.