I’m not sure which came first: the photography or the writing. What I do know is that Kristin Fouquet’s love of photography infuses her storytelling. Her tales have that feel of old photographs you discover in a thrift store bin — you don’t know these people, but you can see their lives boiled down into that moment. It’s because of this that the stories in Rampart & Toulouse and her previous collection Twenty Stories never feel over-told. They unfold simply and capture that poignant moment for the character. You don’t need to know the rest. Everything is in that snapshot.
“Becoming Obsolete” and “Paris is the Pretty One” — two of the short stories in this collection that also includes a novella — both capture that quality in Fouquet’s writing. The former is a tale of refrigerators and New Orleans social hierarchy, the latter is a story of two sisters and a horror-show trip to Paris. For the characters in each, there is a line of demarcation, a point of no return that comes to them not as a sudden surprise but a moment they can only accept with resignation. The author doesn’t force them upon the reader, but with some confidence, lets us see what ultimately becomes obvious to the character, even if they are powerless to change that fateful day.
In all these stories, there are wonderful scenes that Fouquet conjures up, never forced, suddenly unraveling in the midst of a story. A woman standing in her bedroom window, watching a bottle of wine in she left in the courtyard, waiting for it’s intended recipient to appear. A Soprano, dressed in a robe and towel, waving her arms while practicing an aria in the privacy of her Paris apartment, unaware of the spectator watching her from across the street. A procession of ad hoc mourners singing “Sweet Sue Just You” as they march from the St. Louis cemetery in New Orleans, honoring a woman they never knew.
Like a perfect photograph, Fouquet’s stories leave one feeling as if they’ve only caught a glimpse of these lives, but that’s enough to tell the tale, and to know the fates.
Nothing warms the cold heart of an author more than getting a nice shot in the arm from your fellow writers. Case in point: some great love and praise for Songs of Vagabonds, Misfits, and Sinners from Twenty Stories author Kristin Fouquet and The Red Album of Asbury Park scribe Alex Austin. Being a fan of both Kristin and Alex (as you can tell by my own reviews of Twenty Stories and The Red Album of Asbury Park), it was great to receive such high marks from both.
Kristin chimed in via a post on her Le Salon Annex blog:
Ken Wohlrob must love his city. The author of The Love Book returns with stories so encrusted with the ambiance of New York, they could not have come from anyone else other than a resident. These stories, sometimes soft focused and sentimental about the city that was, other times microscopic in their harsh scrutiny, share one thing in common- characters. Wohlrob empathizes with these denizens occupying a rapidly evolving environment.
Alex via his review on GoodReads.
In his aptly named new collection of stories, Songs of Vagabonds, Misfits and Sinners, Wohlrob presents a cast of New York denizens trapped by self-delusion, drug addiction, dehumanizing jobs, self-destructive ambitions, family loyalty, old school entropy, smothering debt and always reliable fate, whose only reward for this shit blizzard called life is a moment or two of stunning bewildering truth.
And now that you’re inspired to pick up a copy of Songs…, be sure to grab these excellent books from Kristin and Alex as well. Also check out Alex’s The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed podcast which includes the full novel along with songs from a slew of Garden State bands.
I have to admit that I concur with Caleb Ross’ review of Twenty Stories. Ms. Fouquet’s tales grow on you, line-by-line, page-by-page, slowly creeping under the skin, as you dig deeper into the collection. But perhaps that is the point. What else would you expect from a bunch of tales set in low and lazy New Orleans? If you’ve walked the streets, you know that nothing is rushed. Even redemption and remorse. So by the time you hit “Another Initiation” on page 6, then stumble upon “The Painters” on page 15, before catching “Boy in Waiting” on page 36, and then finally reaching “Blue No More” on page 43, you’re hip deep in the sordid lives of the New Orleans locals.
I would call these tales postcards rather than traditional stories. Most are snapshots of lives not quite lived but misdirected. There are the not-so-usual missteps and miscalculations. Such as the main character’s longing for a tough-loving lounge singer in “The Moon is New, But Love is Old.” Or the painter who misjudges his landlord’s appreciation of art in “The Painters.” But in all these tales, Fouquet presents characters, people you already know. If you’ve ever spent time in the sweaty watering holes of the South, you recognize them as locals. They ring true of the landscape. Maybe that’s why their trip-ups make for good reading.