Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Authors
Books
Features
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • Junior's Leg
  • Written by Ken Wells
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780375760327
  • Our Price: $15.00
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Junior's Leg

Buy now from Random House

  • Junior's Leg
  • Written by Ken Wells
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9781588360243
  • Our Price: $11.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Junior's Leg

Junior's Leg

    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook

A Novel

Written by Ken WellsAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Ken Wells

eBook

List Price: $11.99

eBook

On Sale: September 15, 2001
Pages: | ISBN: 978-1-58836-024-3
Published by : Random House Random House Group
Junior's Leg Cover

Bookmark,
Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - Junior's Leg
  • Email this page - Junior's Leg
  • Print this page - Junior's Leg
ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
This book has no tags.
You can add some at Library Thing.
Synopsis|Excerpt
> Visit Ken Wells's website!
Related Links

Synopsis

Fifteen years after he tormented fellow students at Catahoula Bayou School, Junior Guidry is broke, drunk, one-legged, and living in a wreck of a trailer on the edge of a snake-infested swamp. He's survived an oil-rig accident that would've killed most men but, with the help of a good lawyer, made him rich instead. But he's squandered his fortune on drink, blackjack, womanizing, and brawling, leaving a wake of wrecked cars and friendships, not to mention lost or stolen wooden legs. Then the mysterious Iris Mary Parfait enters his life. She's on the run from a tragic childhood and a bad, bad man. When news reaches Junior that a bar owner with Mob connections has posted a $100,000 bounty on Iris's head because she knows too much about him, Junior realizes he could regain his fortune—but at what cost?

Narrated in Junior's unvarnished voice, Junior's Leg takes the reader on a singular journey through the mind of a troubled man. It is at turns unsettling, ribald, sexy, and poignant—a bold stroke of storytelling that ultimately plumbs the possibilities of love and redemption, even for as unlikely a candidate as Junior.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

I seen her comin’ up the steps. It was about dark, though, hell—night, day, it’s all the same to me.

For all I knew, she could have been a ghost or a robber.

Ghost or robber, I just laid there on the sofa watchin’ her come. Either one could cut my sorry throat and what could I do about it?

Shuh, nuttin’.

If she’s gonna cut my throat, I hope she’s got a sharp knife.

I’m drunk, or close to it. I am what I am. What I always am—goddam Junior Guidry.

And anyway, the door ain’t locked. Nobody comes out here to this miserable godforsaken place. Ain’t nuttin’ out here but me and the swamp and nootra-rats and mosquitoes and a few damn ole hoot owls.

Before I pawned my 12-gauge, I shot me a few of them noisy bastids. You’d think they’d learn, but they don’t.

The ole crook who put in these lots and sold me this wreck of a trailer calls this place Hackberry Bend Acres. But the ole Cajuns call this place Mauvais Bois—the bad woods—and I know why. This bit of high ground I’m on ain’t nuttin’ but a finger in the eye of the Great Catahoula Swamp. Get a hurricane blowin’ through here and this trailer will be a submarine headin’ for the Gulf of Mexico and I’ll be up to my ass in water moccasins. Hell, there’s probably a dozen of ’em crawlin’ around under this trailer right now.

When the girl come in the door, it squeaked on rusty hinges. She didn’t knock. She just come in, slow and sneaky like a dog that’s been shot at a few times. She looked pale as the belly of a sac-à-lait. She had a small suitcase in her hand.

I looked around, not really able to move my head ’cause I had the spins perty bad. I thought about throwin’ my leg at her. I looked around for it and I thought I saw it in a heap in the corner wit’ the rest of the garbage—in between my busted-up hip boots and that greasy spare carburetor for my truck and a coupla cans of motor oil that have leaked all over that stack of Playboy magazines my podnah Roddy give me.

That oil has totally ruined Miss July’s knockers, which is a shame ’cause she had some good ones, lemme tell ya.

I ain’t worn my leg in a while. Hoppin’s okay when you get used to it and you ain’t got far to go.

Hell, I’ve even crawled a few places when I was too drunk to stand.

If I coulda got to my leg, I’da damned well tried to bean her wit’ it. I used to be a good ballplayer. I could hit a ball to Kingdom Come and throw a strike to home plate from deep center field.

There was a bottle on the floor just below me and I coulda tried to cold-cock her with that. But it still had whiskey in it. I didn’t know when Roddy might be back wit’ more.

He’s a flaky bastid, Roddy is.

Anyways, I wadn’t gonna waste good liquor on a damn ghost. Or a robber neither.

What the hell do I care about a robber? I’m so friggin’ broke, even the mice and roaches that crawl around my kitchen have gone on the Relief. Them mice I can live wit’. Them roaches bug me.

Everything shorts out in this ratty trailer. One time I got so mad at them roaches that I smeared the bare bulb of my kitchen light with peanut butter. I waited about an hour and then I come in and threw the switch. That bulb popped and fussed and I electrocuted about twenty of them bastids—they fell to the floor like rain.

The girl come in and looked around. She slumped down in a corner over by my leg where it was already dark. She slumped down there and disappeared in the dark, though I heard her cryin’. I said get the hell out of my house. Get the hell out, damn you!

She stopped cryin’. For all I know, she stopped breathin’ and I wouldn’ta cared whether she did or didn’t.

The trailer got quiet.

I reached down for my bottle and I took me a big swallow. The whiskey rolled down my chin and onto my chest.

I took me another. A good one, this time.

The whiskey rolled down my throat and into my belly like a hot diesel chuggin’ for New Awlins. I wiped my mouth and closed my eyes. The spins stopped and dark come down all around me.

Them hoot owls started up just to aggravate me and them crickets put up a racket in the roseaus and some big ole bullfrog started barkin’ out across the swamp. But I didn’t pay ’em no mind.

I closed my eyes tighter and headed on down to hell.
Ken Wells|Author Q&A

About Ken Wells

Ken Wells - Junior's Leg
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.

Author Q&A

An Interview with Ken Wells

RH: Who were your literary models, or heroines and heroes?

KW: I’m a huge fan of Eudora Welty, who set the bar for all “regional” writers by proving that you could write about a few square miles of backwater America and make it interesting to the entire world. I greatly admire many of the other usual suspects: John Steinbeck, Willie Faulkner, Twain and Willa Cather and, perhaps showing my tastes are more eclectic than refined, I devoured as a young man James Fenimore Cooper, Sinclair Lewis, Charles Dickens, Daniel Defoe and Jules Verne. More contemporarily, I like Saul Bellow, Richard Russo and the late-great Edward Abbey and, closer to home, Ernest Gaines and Tim Gautreaux. And my favorite book of the last decade is hands-down Robert Olen Butler’s “A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain.” I was struck with awe and jealousy at the sheer beauty and craftsmanship of it. That said, I think my all-time favorite novel is still “Tom Jones” by Henry Fielding. Perhaps I love most how utterly contemporary that book is, and how he handled bawdy themes in a literary way-another inspiration for my work.

RH: Your writing seems very natural and easy, and humor is a large part of your appeal. And yet the critics have recognized the serious literary underpinnings of your work. Is it difficult to pull off both at once?

KW: I think it would be very hard to have grown up in South Louisiana and not appreciate humor-the place, often unintentionally, was/is hilarious. There’s a line in Junior’s Leg about him treating an upset stomach with Pepsi-Bismol. I didn’t make that up: my sweet old Aunt Heloise from Thibodaux, bless her heart, called it that all the time. Such endearing malapropisms were a constant part of the Cajun family landscape. So I guess I don’t think of myself as a humorist as much as perhaps a reasonably keen observer of the human spirit with an ear toward recognizing what makes people laugh. As for the writing part, well, all I know about it is that I like to write, and long before I liked to write, I loved to tell stories-as did my father and grandfather before me. As for any serious literary label, yikes! I’ll just leave that to others to sort out. When I first heard the term “literary fiction” applied to Meely I could only think: damn--that probably means a book that’s not expected to sell more than a few hundred copies!

RH: Although you’re from the South, you’ve moved away and are now a journalist in the Northeast. You’re encountering different experiences now in a different region of the country. So what draws you to write about the South?

KW: People are somewhat surprised-I sure am-that these books seem to have come pouring out of me in a rush. I’m just opening up my head and letting the bayou run out. The axioms are true: you can take the boy out of the bayou but you can’t take the bayou out of the boy, and you write best about what you know. Hence, my compulsion to try to capture on paper at least the spirit of the place and time I grew up in, and the people I grew up among. Plus, let’s face it-the Cajun delta really is a gumbo of color and one of the last real places in America. And literarily speaking, it’s relatively unexploited.

RH: What was it like growing up on Bayou Black, La.?

KW: Imagine two parallel roads winding for 12 miles with a broad, dark ribbon of water--the bayou--in between. Imagine scattered farmhouses with tin roofs and broad porches set on wide lawns of St. Augustine grass. Imagine a sea of sugar cane surrendering eventually to swamp and hardwood forest full of cypress and moss-draped live oak. That was Bayou Black, a place of maybe 350 people built not around a town square but strung out along opposing banks of an ancient bayou. We lived "down" the bayou, about five miles from town, on a five-acre farm with a cow, six dogs, countless feral cats, a pet mink named Stinky and a mischievous pet monkey named Peanut. Peanut was a gift from one of our bayou neighbors, "Alligator" Annie; she ran a reptile menagerie from her bayouside farm.

Almost everyone on Bayou Black (except my dad, an interloper from backwoods Arkansas) was Cajun. People of my mother's generation or older still spoke Cajun French, which is a patois of perfectly fine 19th Century country French and a smattering of English. Almost everyone there worked in sugarcane but work was far from the center of bayou life. Everybody had a boat--or at least a pirogue, the Cajun canoe--tied up to homemade docks and much free time was spent fishing and hunting and otherwise collecting the bayou's bounty of wild things for the pot. Cajuns are sociable folk; they love to eat, drink and dance, and the center of bayou social life was Elmo's Bar, a combination grocery store and honky-tonk, named for Elmo Giroir, its owner.

A typical bayou scene: Elmo, out fishing one day, caught a 120-pound loggerhead turtle, a creature whose head is the size of a cantaloupe and whose shell has massive raised ridges that make it look prehistoric. After a suitable period of display in a washtub atop the bar, Elmo dressed the turtle and cooked sauce piquant for the whole bayou. The food was free; people came on Saturday night and plunked coins in an aging jukebox full of Cajun music and Fats Domino records (six songs for a quarter) and ordered copious amounts of beer from the bar. Everyone started to dance. In typical Cajun fashion, this turned into what the Cajuns call a fais-dos-dos--a party for all.

RH: Are any of your characters based on people you know in real life? How much of your writing is non-fictive?

KW: My characters are seldom invented whole cloth but they are never “real” people. Most are composites-I’ll admit, for example, that there is a lot of Grandpa Wells, and some of my father, in Meely’s dad. I never really knew a Junior Guidry. But I cut my teeth as a reporter during South Louisiana’s Oil Patch booms, and a vast amount of the color of the book is based upon my impressions of people, places and situations during that time. But none of it is strictly “true.”

RH: You write in two very different forms: newspaper articles and novels. How is each one different? Which comes more easily? Which do you prefer?

KW: Publishing Meely after 18 frustrating years of trying to publish fiction was one of the greatest thrills in my life. But I also think the discipline I learned from all those years as a frontline reporter and editor, immersing myself in the stylebook and knocking out stories under deadline pressure, made the crafting of Meely easier when the Muse paid her fickle visit to my shoulder. Journalism seems harder to me-mostly because, unlike fiction, your writing it absolutely anchored to fact. On the other hand, I seem to have been able to deftly compartmentalize the two forms and I find now that they are mainly complimentary, with each providing a welcome break from the other. But if you tied me up and threatened to dunk me in a boiling crawfish pot, I’d admit that my real love and passion now is the writing of my novels.

RH: Having completed the Catahoula Bayou trilogy, what are you working on next? Given your background as a journalist, do you plan to write a nonfiction book at some point?

KW: Actually, I’m working on a book about beer culture in America. It’s my first foray into nonfiction and I’m a bit nervous about it. But, hey-a chance to travel around the country immersing myself in beer culture, beer people and the beer industry (and beer itself!), how could I say no?

My next fiction project is Crawfish Mountain. It’s actually a book that predates Meely and deals (in an engaging way, I hope) with serious issues of environmental degradation and political corruption in South Louisiana.

Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. The Denver Post called Junior's Leg "a fine comic gumbo." Yet in the reader's first encounter, Junior Guidry, the odious bully from Wells's debut novel, Meely LaBauve, is not exactly an easy guy to warm up to. The author himself has said that Junior's sole saving grace at the start of the book is his ability to laugh, if darkly, at himself. Discuss the author's use of humor in this novel and how it illuminates serious issues -- race, class, fealty, vengeance, love and redemption -- that Junior is forced to deal with.

2) Wells tries to take you inside the head of his characters by having them relate their stories in their own voices -- a device he employs, stream-of-consciousness-like, without the use of quotation marks. Discuss how this lack of grammatical convention in Junior's Leg affects the storytelling. Do you think it makes the book easier to read? Or more difficult?

3) Richard Bernstein of the New York Times said of Junior's Leg that Wells "writes with an amused tenderness toward his characters." Discuss the author's uses of empathy, irony and satire-even self satirization in Junior's transformation from a crude lout to a character determined to finally make principled decisions.

4) Southern writers often face a difficult choice in deciding how much to flavor their prose with dialect or vernacular and still keep their readers. In Junior's Leg, this decision is further complicated because the book is set in a part of the French-flavored South that is off the beaten path to even many Southerners. Discuss Wells' use of Cajun and southern phrasing and idioms. Do you think they enrich the reader's understanding of the region?

5) Complex interracial themes weave themselves throughout Meely LaBauve and
again in Junior's Leg. The book's heroine, Iris Mary Parfait, is a woman of mixed-race heritage (black, white, Indian) who, beyond her kindness, smarts and good sense, further confuses Junior's bigoted notions by being an albino who is more white than he is. Discuss the author's handling of racial themes and how they illuminate the characters and the book's setting. By the novel's end, would you still consider Junior a bigot and/or a racist?

6) Wells often mixes South Louisiana folkloric elements (gris-gris, the Evil Eye, the loup garou) with religious themes and subtexts (Virgin Mary shrines, for example) to bring color and context to his writing. Do you think the use of these devices adds to the reader's understanding of Cajun culture?

2. Wells tries to take you inside the head of his characters by having them relate their stories in their own voices -- a device he employs, stream-of-consciousness-like, without the use of quotation marks. Discuss how this lack of grammatical convention in Junior's Leg affects the storytelling. Do you think it makes the book easier to read? Or more difficult?

3. Richard Bernstein of the New York Times said of Junior's Leg that Wells "writes with an amused tenderness toward his characters." Discuss the author's uses of empathy, irony and satire-even self satirization in Junior's transformation from a crude lout to a character determined to finally make principled decisions.

4. Southern writers often face a difficult choice in deciding how much to flavor their prose with dialect or vernacular and still keep their readers. In Junior's Leg, this decision is further complicated because the book is set in a part of the French-flavored South that is off the beaten path to even many Southerners. Discuss Wells' use of Cajun and southern phrasing and idioms. Do you think they enrich the reader's understanding of the region?

5. Complex interracial themes weave themselves throughout Meely LaBauve and again in Junior's Leg. The book's heroine, Iris Mary Parfait, is a woman of mixed-race heritage (black, white, Indian) who, beyond her kindness, smarts and good sense, further confuses Junior's bigoted notions by being an albino who is more white than he is. Discuss the author's handling of racial themes and how they illuminate the characters and the book's setting. By the novel's end, would you still consider Junior a bigot and/or a racist?

6. Wells often mixes South Louisiana folkloric elements (gris-gris, the Evil Eye, the loup garou) with religious themes and subtexts (Virgin Mary shrines, for example) to bring color and context to his writing. Do you think the use of these devices adds to the reader's understanding of Cajun culture?


Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: