Friday, December 13, 2013

Louisiana Lit: Half of Paradise

Half of Paradise cover, Pocket Books. Found: Bill Crider

Book: Half of Paradise

Author: James Lee Burke

Author's provenance: (excerpted from his website)
James Lee Burke was born in Houston, Texas, in 1936 and grew up on the Texas-Louisiana gulf coast. He attended Southwestern Louisiana Institute and later received a B. A. Degree in English and an M. A. from the University of Missouri in 1958 and 1960 respectively. Over the years he worked as a landman for Sinclair Oil Company, pipeliner, land surveyor, newspaper reporter, college English professor, social worker on Skid Row in Los Angeles, clerk for the Louisiana Employment Service, and instructor in the U. S. Job Corps.
A number of Mr. Burke's books have been set in Louisiana. His most famous series revolves around the character of Dave Robicheaux, of cajun heritage, a cop in Louisiana.

Half of Paradise blurb, Pocket Books. Found: Bill Crider

Written in 1965, Half of Paradise was Mr. Burke's first published novel. Has nothing to do with Robicheaux - it is about three other Louisianans: Toussaint, Broussard, and Winfield. In a nutshell, all end up in hell in various ways, pretty much by their own hands.  

I did get a sense of place in the book, which kept me somewhat engaged. Toussaint's actions made the most sense of the three, and I could see how he ended up the way he did (dead). I never saw quite how Winfield got enmeshed into the drug scene - it seemed a little too Reefer Madness to me - you know - take one little bit of a drug and you're a lunatic from that moment. Not to mention the woman who leads him to the fiery gates. (He also dies.) As for Broussard, yes, I got the alcoholic thing and that his aristocratic heritage shriveled up and died, but alcoholism doesn't explain the dipshit decisions/behaviors he engaged in from the beginning of his moonshine escapade all the way to the end. (He ends up back in the work camp.)

I'm pretty sure I've read at least one of Mr. Burke's books in the past, but I didn't remember the strong Louisiana connection until my mother pointed it out - she is in the process of churning through his work. So I'm giving them a go. Might be fun to visit some of the places in his books.

Recommend? No, not really.

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