Oyster, the first novel from accomplished short story writer John Biguenet is, like the creature of its title, a juicy, salty, sensuous treat. Set on the Louisiana bayou, Oyster tells the story of two rival oystering families Ė the Bruneaus and the Petitjeans. Though oystering doesnít seem like a ripe target for a novel, Biguenetís evocative language and a strong dose of good old-fashioned sex and violence, make the book a riveting read.
At the bookís start, the Bruneau patriarch, Horse, plans to marry Therese, the 18-year-old daughter of the Petitjean family, in hopes of taking over her familyís oyster beds. However, the headstrong Therese has other plans. In a few quick, brutal passages, Thereseís seduction of Horse sours into murder.
The crime sets in motion a series of confessions, betrayals, lust and, of course, more murders. The bookís plot twists are fairly predictable. Itís not difficult, for instance, to figure out that Thereseís mother, Mathilde, had an affair with Horse, and other developments are equally transparent. But, as with many good books, itís not the plot thatís important so much as the characters and their relationships to each other. All of the people who inhabit Biguenetís tale are rich, flawed, multi-faceted, and convincingly human. Therese is particularly complicated, and it becomes clear that her acts of violence are less an indication of an evil nature than of a fierce loyalty to her family. Her growing relationship with Horseís youngest son, Rusty, who carries a dark secret about his family, is a convincing and fascinating tug of war between affection and resistance.
Biguenet also depicts the hardscrabble lives of the Louisiana oystermen with loving details, from the actual mechanics of the fishermenís boats, to the back-breaking process of coming the bed for shellfish, to Rustyís quiet indulgence in his crop during a fishing trip. The life the bookís oystermen live is dangerous and often unrewarding. Itís also unapologetically male-oriented, and one of the most interesting aspects of the story is how many of the male characters react with shock and respect
when Therese goes to work as a crewman on her fatherís boat.
Biguenet is a skillful storyteller, weaving a yarn that grabs the reader from the first bloody passages right into the irony-tinged ending. Itís not hard to figure out where the story is getting to, but itís almost impossible to resist going along for the ride.
© 2002 by
Amanda Cuda for Curled Up With a Good Book