In “Signals: New and Selected Stories,” Louisiana native Tim Gautreaux takes readers into the nuanced world of his home state with his usual whip-smart wit. There are a handful of stories in this collection set in other locales, but Louisiana is ripe creative ground for Gautreaux as you’ll read in the interview below. Born and raised in Morgan City, Gautreaux has written three novels, a novella and this is his third short story collection. He spent 33 years of his career as a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. He’s since retired but makes occasional reading appearances at universities across the United States.
I’ll admit that as a creative writing major in college, I had professors who published short story collections that were at times — well, pretentious and a bit out of reach. I’ve since stayed away from reading short stories, but that has changed with Gautreaux’s collection.
Contained within this collection are 21 short stories that will keep your attention. Read a story while you wait at the doctor’s office, savor one before you drift off to sleep — whenever you read one of the stories you’ll find yourself laughing or nodding along at the insightfulness contained within.
Q: I’ve seen your writing compared to Flannery O’Connor’s and James Dickey’s; how does it feel to be in such illustrious company?
A: James Dickey was one of my teachers at the University of South Carolina back when I was trying to write poetry, so his notion of bringing intensity to a prose narrative by employing appropriate poetical language as he did in his novel “Deliverance” rubbed off on me a bit. As for Flannery O’Connor, I doubt there’s a writer below the Maryland line that’s not affected by what she’s brought to American literature.
Q: Why do you write so many stories set in Louisiana?
A: Louisiana is a sublimely ridiculous place and more of a contradicting state of mind than a geographical location. The place runs a spectrum from drive-through daiquiri windows to Ash Wednesday ironic penance and abstinence when thousands of people appear in local seafood restaurants buying hot boiled crawfish and beer while wearing black smudges on their foreheads.
Q: How is “Signals” different from your other collections of short stories?
A: There is some branching out into different regions of the country. Even though I’ve set tales in Minnesota, Ohio, and North Carolina, they’re still Tim Gautreaux stories because the techniques, types of characters and thematic concerns are the same.
Q: I have a theory that short story collections are going to become more popular as attention spans become shorter. Do you think there’s anything to that?
A: Following that logic, in 50 years all literature will be contained in haiku form. But seriously, I believe that stories will diminish as literary entities because short story writers are destroying the genre by writing depressing, artless and inhuman narratives. Who wants to buy that stuff?
Q: You write the nuances of your characters so well; do real-life personalities you come across ever make their way into your work?
A: I don’t copy other people, but I do observe them and extrapolate bits and pieces into new characters.
Q: Can you talk about the importance of storytelling?
A: A man or woman who can tell a good three-part joke that lasts a full two or three minutes is a person who can write believable fiction. For one thing, he or she knows how to get and keep an audience.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Like everyone else in the world, a novel.
“Signals: New and Selected Stories”
by Tim Gautreaux
Knopf, 384 pp., $26.95.