In this impressive debut Marcus J. Guillory brilliantly weaves together the many obstacles of a young man growing into adulthood, the realities of urban life, the history of Louisiana Creole culture, the glory of the black cowboy, and the role of religion in shaping lives.
South Park, Houston, Texas, 1977, is where we first meet Ti' John, a young boy under the care of his larger-than-life father - a working-class rodeo star and a practitioner of vodou - and his mother - a good Catholic and cautious disciplinarian - who forbids him to play with the neighborhood "hoodlums." Ti' John, throughout the era of Reaganomics and the dawn of hip-hop and cassette tapes, must negotiate the world around him and a peculiar gift he's inherited from his father and Jules Saint-Pierre "Nonc" Sonnier, a deceased ancestor who visits the boy, announcing himself with the smell of smoke on a regular basis.
In many ways, Ti' John is an ordinary kid who loses his innocence as he witnesses violence and death, as he gets his heart broken by girls and his own embittered father, as he struggles to live up to his mother's middle-class aspirations and his father's notion of what it is to be a man. In other ways, he is different - from his childhood buddies and from the father who is his hero.
The question throughout this layered and complex coming-of-age story is will Ti' John survive the bad side of life - and his upbringing - and learn how to recognize and keep what is good.
We were going to the rodeo. Despite all the rigmarole with loading up the horses, saddles, and ice chests in preparation for the trip, the entire experience was exhilarating. During the week he may have spent his days loading shipping containers at the Houston Ship Channel until he was exhausted or chanced his paycheck on the roll of the dice on Stassen Street or the dexterity of his pool cue at Jewel's Lounge or listened to Mother's harangues while trying to watch the Astros game, but none of that mattered on Sunday because on Sunday, Father was a bona fide rock star in the black rodeo circuit and nobody questioned that.
We loaded up a palomino named TJ. A beautiful, cream-colored horse that Father had been training for calf roping. Then we loaded in a jumpy quarter horse called Black Jack. That was my horse and part of Father's blatant attempt to make me a horseman. Black Jack had come off the racetrack and was a bit skittish, prone to take off without...
With a luscious Louisiana Creole always percolating below the Southern-spiked black urban dialect, the language is as rich and textured as the landscape Guillory evokes, reminding one of Faulkner's famous line: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." The whole novel, in fact, can be read as an exploration of Faulkner's contention. Ti'John must learn to incorporate the past into his life, or else be haunted by it, in his case quite literally. Much as he might wish to turn a blind eye to the dark, violent, contentious history of his people and concentrate on running the block and "getting booty," Ti'John realizes early on that he must honor his heritage before he can make his own future.
(Reviewed by Morgan Macgregor).
Full Review (653 words).
In Red Now and Laters, there are several references to zydeco, a type of music descended from Louisiana Creoles.
The commonly accepted explanation for the word "zydeco" is that it comes from the old Creole adage, "Les haricots ne sont pas sales," meaning literally "the beans aren't salty," a lamentation that times are hard when you can't even have salt for your beans. The saying can be found in many Creole songs, and when pronounced in Louisiana Creole sounds like,"leh-zy-deco nuh sonh par salay" It officially began to be called zydeco when Creole musician Clifton Chenier defined his own music as such.
Chenier (pronounced shen-eer to rhyme with veneer) identified with the blues over traditional French music, adopting the keyboard...
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