John Biguenet
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Buy *Oyster: A Novel* online

Oyster: A Novel

John Biguenet
288 pages
June 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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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 – the Bruneaus and the Petitjeans. Though oystering doesn’t seem like a ripe target for a novel, Biguenet’s evocative language and a strong dose of good old-fashioned sex and violence, make the book a riveting read.

Curled Up With a Good BookAt the book’s start, the Bruneau patriarch, Horse, plans to marry Therese, the 18-year-old daughter of the Petitjean family, in hopes of taking over her family’s oyster beds. However, the headstrong Therese has other plans. In a few quick, brutal passages, Therese’s seduction of Horse sours into murder.

The crime sets in motion a series of confessions, betrayals, lust and, of course, more murders. The book’s plot twists are fairly predictable. It’s not difficult, for instance, to figure out that Therese’s mother, Mathilde, had an affair with Horse, and other developments are equally transparent. But, as with many good books, it’s not the plot that’s important so much as the characters and their relationships to each other. All of the people who inhabit Biguenet’s 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 Horse’s 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 fishermen’s boats, to the back-breaking process of coming the bed for shellfish, to Rusty’s quiet indulgence in his crop during a fishing trip. The life the book’s oystermen live is dangerous and often unrewarding. It’s 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 father’s boat.

Biguenet is a skillful storyteller, weaving a yarn that grabs the reader from the first bloody passages right into the irony-tinged ending. It’s not hard to figure out where the story is getting to, but it’s almost impossible to resist going along for the ride.

© 2002 by Amanda Cuda for Curled Up With a Good Book

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