Reviews, Vol. 6.2, June 2012
Rank Stranger Press, 2011
Perfect bound, 117 pp., $14.95
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Rampart & Toulouse: a novella and other stories is Kristin Fouquet’s second short story collection. Comprised of three New Orleans-centric short stories and a novella, the characters in the tales strike a balance of continuity, even as they span the socioeconomic spectrum. All are part of their city, as much products of New Orleans as crawfish etouffée.
The opening short story, “Becoming Obsolete,” is a tale rooted in the relevance of the present day. Its two main characters are refrigerator repairmen, and remain central to the story as characters; the story’s focus is, after all, on these men and their waning profession. They remain believable and nuanced throughout, and through them, a depth to the writing emerges: beyond all socioeconomic considerations, the place of all such persons in the world is called into question, is understood to be universal.
“Varietals” is remarkable in part for its careful, elegant writing and attention to detail, and also for its form: the narrative is framed within a parallel construction, and in that sense, form follows content. Part 1 is written from the point of view of a lonely, well-to-do woman raising her daughter. Part 2 is written from the perspective of the homeless man she takes pity on by providing him with a bottle of wine from her collection on a daily basis. There is a distinctive push and pull between the two, obvious divisions: rich and poor, male and female, healthy and ill, homeless and not. There is a balance in this, in the inevitable outcome of the story. Fouquet remains a realist, and the balance of her writing becomes more evident as the collection progresses.
While it is balanced, I found myself sometimes hoping for a little imbalance; every now and are opportunities for things to be slightly more askew. I wanted to see the author increase the stakes, make her characters suffer a little more or develop a little more. But of course, in “Becoming Obsolete,” the static-ness of the characters is part of the point. In “Varietals,” it’s part of the purpose too: the wealthy woman will remain as fixed in her social and economic stratosphere as the homeless man will remain fixed in his.
But too, Fouquet’s narratives are subtly meditative. The title piece is evidence of this. “Rampart and Toulouse” is a quiet piece with vibrant characters. In this novella, a young female artist roughs it without electricity, living a painter’s ascetic existence in a second story apartment at Rampart and Toulouse Streets, while battling the psychological aftermath a shooting. The story is filled with the music and history of New Orleans, and its characters are living representatives of that history: the young starving artist, the priest who’s lost his faith, the handsome middle-aged philanderer, the aging jazz singer. The reader sees the city through the eyes of a character familiar with its unique lore:
As Vivienne ventured further down Rampart, she turned back a few times. Taking a sip of wine, she felt she was missing out, but she had a strong need to accomplish her mission. Down St. Louis, she took in the ancient architecture with fresh eyes. A light mist began to fall.
Overall, the collection strikes a humanitarian chord: the characters possess a certain awareness of themselves and their place in the world, as they understand it through their surroundings, and as they have been influenced by and are products of their city. Location becomes a character in itself: New Orleans is a city rich in history and tradition and filled with vibrant characters, all of those things coming together to inform its identity. Fouquet is a sympathetic, carefully observant writer with an eye for detail. I look forward to her next collection.