Saturday, June 13, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 24: "The Convict" by James Lee Burke

The card: King of clubs

The anthology: The Best American Short Stories 1986

The story: "The Convict" by James Lee Burke

(This story is not in any way humorous, as implied by that photo of Buster Keaton in one of his roles, but I liked it.)

I don't know what it is, but the short story gods have been conspiring lately to line up a bunch of "childhood traumatic realization" stories for me to read lately. This one is certainly one of the better ones I have read lately.

This story takes place in and around the town of New Iberia in south Louisiana, in the early days of integration. It's told from the point of view of young Avery Broussard, whose father Will is a highly respected citizen of the town, even though he frequently holds unpopular viewpoints, such as integration might be OK, and an escaped black convict might possibly have a soul and a good reason for wanting to run away from prison.

On the way back home from town one Friday evening, Avery and his parents are stopped at a roadblock, where a state policeman warns the family that there's a couple of convicts who have escaped from the infamous Angola prison (the Louisiana State Penitentiary) and are on the loose. Of course one of the convicts ends up hiding out in the Broussards' shed, and Will's attempts to treat the man with common decency strains his relationship with his wife. Avery observes all this and tries to make sense of it. He admires his dad immensely, but he also knows that Will is doing something that could get him into lots of trouble, and he doesn't know what to make of any of it.

Will ends up helping the convict move on, but he ends up back at the Broussards' farm after being trapped by further roadblocks. Will has no choice but to turn the man in at this point, and how that happens (and the mental gymnastics the Sheriff has to go through to keep from letting any blame fall on Will for harboring the fugitive) makes for an interesting climax and denouement to the story.

I was unfamiliar with James Lee Burke's writing before reading this story, but Wikipedia informs me that he is a prolific writer, probably best known for his series of mysteries involving the character Dave Robicheaux. Since he hails from my general region, I think I will have to explore more of his writing.

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

1 comment:

  1. James Lee Burke is new to me to, but this sounds like a powerful story. I like how you mention the conspiratorial short story gods too, and I also enjoy the eddys and currents of DMI randomness.

    I continue to admire your approach this year with the stories being from four years' volumes of BASS and still wish I had thought of that. :-)