“The Marauders” by Tom Cooper. Crown, 2015. $26.
Tom Cooper has Louisiana dead to rights. Every aspect.
Jeanette, the sleepy bayou town ravaged by man and nature alike, is rendered in Technicolor detail. Its residents, lifers and visitors alike, leap from the pages. The story rolls like a tide, handling triumph and tragedy alike with a dark, mischievous humor that Cooper wields expertly.
The past 10 years have not been kind to Jeanette. Hurricane Katrina nearly washed the town away.
Now, BP oil burbling from the seafloor is choking off the town’s lifeblood — Gulf seafood. Cooper’s cast of characters include old-before-his-time teenager Wes Trench and his father, Bob, still mourning their losses from Katrina; the loopy treasure hunter Lindquist; menacing twin drug dealers the Toups; harebrained John Henry Hanson and the hapless Cosgrove; and Grimes, who totes more baggage than he’s equipped to carry. All of them, in their own right and in their own time, are the main character.
Once set up, and Cooper is remarkably efficient at this, he bounces them off each other in ways that are equally comic and tragic, taking the reader from belly laughs to tears in a page. There’s more than a hint of the Southern gothic here, more than a little Flannery O’Connor (confession: that’s almost too easy a leap for me to make — a prosthesis is involved). But it’s never twee, never precious. Instead, it comes at you at the point of a rapier, slashing and leaping and rolling like a silver screen swordfight.
And then there’s Louisiana. Floating behind this crazy menagerie of actual people, there’s Louisiana herself. Ever present, always there. Always right. All aspects.
“What else could you expect, an outpost improvised and jury-rigged by outlaws and gypsies out of the swamp? A place which, in its fledging years, was tossed back and forth between countries like a bastard child? Look at the evidence. State representatives caught with federal money in their freezers and prostitutes in their beds. Gubernatorial candidates ending up in prison. Federal Emergency money spent on swimming pools and sports cars and palomino ponies,” Cooper writes.
It’s easy to forget this is his first novel.
Some books require boxes of tissues. This one requires an, as Cooper writes, “an ass-pocket whiskey bottle.” Get you a drink and get comfortable. You won’t be moving until you hit the last page.
Follow Beth Colvin on Twitter at @bethcolvinreads.