Alma Books, £12.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Book review: Sketcher, By Roland Watson-Grant
Wednesday 17 July 2013
The swamps to the east of New Orleans are an exciting place for a boy. Nine-year-old Terence "Skid" Beaumont is the youngest of four brothers. His father, Alrick, decided to build a shack here, prompted by a vision after a drunken bender. He was convinced he was set to make a killing from his property speculation, because New Orleans was bound to expand over the mire. That never happened and so the Beaumonts are stuck in the mud.
Alrick earns a living mending electrical appliances, but then he vanishes to the Big Easy and leaves his family to get by as best they can. Skid regales us with their picaresque battles against poverty amid the mosquitoes – not to mention alligators and surprise sinkholes. More hazardous still are the Benet brothers, who like pointing guns at Skid and his siblings.
Yet Skid's main concern is whether his brother Frico has magical powers: he suspects Frico can fix things and cure people by sketching their flaws away. When Valerie, his long-suffering mother, discovers Skid's obsession she takes him to a psychiatrist but Skid's faith in Frico persists .
Skid is irrepressible and precocious, from a Southern lineage that harks back to Scout Finch and Tom Sawyer. Roland Watson-Grant gives Skid a down-home vernacular that is markedly acute, rather than cute. Unimpressed by spectacular sunsets over the bayou, he wonders "why God spent so much time decoratin' a day that was dyin'".
Despite Skid's verbal talents, he is not the most reliable narrator, and so Watson-Grant's variant of magical realism keeps us guessing. While the swamp might be a realm with its own realities, the machinations of mainstream society continue in the big city beyond the mud.
The real threats to the Beaumonts appear to be corporate, rather than supernatural, in the form of businesses prospecting for gas. Skid has to realise that the problems of the swamps are not about to be fixed with a few pen-strokes. But if the broken parts of life cannot always be mended, most of it is still more than good enough, in these rollicking chronicles from the sticky side of Louisiana.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 'Alien thigh bone' on Mars: Excitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
- 3 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 4 London restaurant 34 creates champagne glass modelled on Kate Moss’ left breast
- 5 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians