Ken Wells’s highly acclaimed picaresque Catahoula Bayou novels introduced “one of the most compelling voices in fiction of the last decade” (Los Angeles Times). Now Wells is back, writing about his favorite subject–the exotic, beleaguered Louisiana wetlands–in a sharp, rollicking tale of corporate corruption and political shenanigans. The fight over one man’s tract of sacred marsh fronts a deeper story of our place in the environment and our obligations to it.
Justin Pitre’s marsh island, a legacy of his trapper grandfather, is a scenic rival to anything in the Everglades, and he has promised to protect it from all harm. But he hasn’t counted on oil bigwig Tom Huff’s plans to wreck his bayou paradise by ramming a pipeline through it. When cajolery doesn’t sway Justin to sign the land over, Huff turns to darker methods. But Justin and his spirited wife, Grace, prove to be formidable adversaries–and the game is on.
Into the fray comes the charismatic Cajun governor Joe T. Evangeline, who seems more interested in chasing skirts than saving Louisiana’s eroding coast. The Guv, though, is a man on the edge, upended by a midlife crisis and torn between a secret political obligation to Big Oil and the persuasive powers of Julie Galjour, a feisty environmentalist. Julie is clearly out to reform more than the Guv’s ecopolitics, but will his tragicomic Big Oil deals wreck both his career and his chances with the brash and beautiful activist?
As Justin and Grace battle to stop this Big Oil assault, the plot thickens–and the Guv becomes snared in the web. Featuring a gumbo of eccentrics and lowlifes, a kidnapping, a sexy snitch, a toxic-waste-dumping scheme, a boat chase, and a fishing trip gone horribly awry, Crawfish Mountain, spiced with Ken Wells’s keen eye for locale, showcases his adventurous storytelling.
From the Hardcover edition.
The Origins of Paradise a hand-scrawled letter dated october 4, 1990
To my Grandson Justin Pitre,
I’m sory that I don’t write or spell so good but this is something I wanted to put down on paper. Yor PawPaw is getting to old to fish but I appreciate how you still try to get me to the camp. I still like to go out there and sit in my rocking chair on my front porch. I guess I don’t mind my beer neither. You know that porch got to have the pertiest view in South Louisiana. We’ve had us some good times out there and caught us some fish. You keep on catching them because yor Daddy and Momma like them redfish and speckle trouts. Me to. Can you believe I will be 89? When I was 79 I didn’t feel like an old man. But now I feel old as the swamp and I don’t remember everything good as I used to. So before I get to old to write clear I wanted to let you know I’m giving you the camp and all the land around it. I’ve talked it over with yor Daddy and he thinks this is right. He likes going to the camp ever so often but he wulnd’t know what to do with it. Nobody loves the place more than you and me. You were perty much raised out there. You know when I bought the place 62 years ago from the sugar company I gave pennies an acre for it because people then didn’t think the marsh and swamp was worth nothing. But swamp rats like us know that’s not true. That cypress grove we got on the north side got trees older than me and you put together. You ever seen more spider lilies in the spring than what we got out there? That bird fellow who come out long ago told me that he went all over the country down in Florda to that place called the Everyglades and didn’t see nothing there that we don’t have at Crawfish Mountain. In the old days, I trapped so many muskrats in our marsh that people thought I had me a muskrat ranch hid someplace. Not too many places have muskrats left but we still got some and some otters to. And more gators than you can count. Funny I spent my life trapping and hunting and skinning them critters but now I just get a kick out of watching them. I only have a few things to ask you. I know the little shack is not the pertiest but I built it good with my own hands. If it burns down or if the hurricane comes and knocks it down I want you to build it back facing like it was, with the front porch toward the Gulf and the back porch facing our swamp. I don’t know about heaven but if there is a heaven that’s where yor Mawmaw Myrsa is. So that’s where I’m planning to go when I die (though maybe I’m not in charge of that.) Its nice to think me and her could be sitting up there together and see you looking out at the same things we saw. I know I don’t probly need to say this but don’t let nobody mess with our marsh and our swamp. A lot of that prairie out around us is going to hell and sinking but our land is good because we always kept it just the way God made it. Don’t sell the camp to nobody, neither, no matter what they say they will give you. I never told you but I had more offers to sell the place than crawfish got legs. I know a lot of those rich sports up in Black Bayou town would pay an arm and a leg to put a fancy hunting camp on our land. But when I first paddled around our island all them years ago I knew there were things about that place that money can’t buy. And you won’t find a chenier that’s higher nowhere. Twenty five foot isn’t much to people who live in hills or such. But out in that flat country, where hurricanes can bring a lot of water, its as close to a mountain as you going to find. I don’t have the spring in my step I used to but maybe we can go to the camp on my birthday if it don’t turn to cold. One day you probly going to have to put me in that old wheel barrow and push me up the ramp from the dock. That’s going to be a sight, huh Justin?
Yor PawPaw who loves you,
Jack PitretFrom the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Crawfish Mountain by Ken Wells. Copyright © 2007 by Ken Wells. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About Ken Wells
Ken Wells is a senior writer and features editor for page one of The Wall Street Journal. In 1982, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for The Miami Herald. He lives with his family outside Manhattan.