Fiction Fix: “Idols” by Tim Gautreaux

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Have you consulted the Flavorpill food pyramid lately? You’ll notice that we recommend a weekly dose of Fiction Fix as an essential part of your healthy cultural diet. How come? Well, you may not have time for novels, but short stories are like Flintstones vitamins: quick, fun, and good for you! Read this one, and don’t forget to grab a lollipop on your way out.

When’s the last time you saw the word “icebox”? “Idols,” Tim Gautreaux’s short story in this week’s New Yorker, reminds us of the stories we used to read in middle school English classes. We were never sure if their authors were intentionally cultivating an old-fashioned air or they just sounded that way because our school never bothered to update our pre-Cold War textbooks. We’ve got a feeling that Gautreaux, whose third novel, The Missing, came out earlier this year, falls squarely into the “intentional” camp.

“Idols” tells the story of Julian, a typewriter repairman (seriously!) who inherits a dilapidated old Southern mansion from distant ancestors, and hires a tattooed drifter from town to help him restore it to its former glory. Aside from the Southern Gothic tone, one of the story’s highlights is its excellent dialogue:

“You say you want this worker to live out there with you? What on earth for? You’ll have to feed him, and he’ll have lots of chances to bum money. After a few months on the place, he’ll be the same as a brother-in-law.”
“I want an employee, not a relative.” Mr. Poxley flapped his limp hand at him. “You want a sharecropper, son. Them days is over, gone to history.” Julian suspected that Chance Poxley had little grasp of history. He was just a desiccated old man who specialized in opinions. Still, he probably knew everyone in the county. Julian leaned in and lowered his voice. “I thought maybe I could find someone with a weakness. You know how people go out of circulation because they gamble too much or drink.” “Oh, you want a drunk sharecropper,” the old man said.

Read the whole story here, and move on to Gautreaux’s latest novel here.