Junior's Leg [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...
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Junior's Leg

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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wall Street Journal scribe Wells's semisequel to his first novel, Meely LaBauve, is a zesty, Cajun-flavored bouillabaisse of gritty melodrama, warts-and-all character study and old-fashioned morality tale. It can be abrasively entertaining, and demonstrates the author's considerable flair for offbeat Bayou-country characterization. Unfortunately, too many mismatched genre elements and a heavily predictable, almost schematic "road to redemption" story line scar an otherwise promising sophomore outing. Narrated by Joseph "Junior" Guidry, an embittered, boorish former roughneck who lost his left leg in a freakish drilling-rig accident, the novel paints a chronically self-destructive man's ever-so-gradual journey toward moral and spiritual self-improvement. Junior is a memorable creation, an inveterately nasty, unabashedly cynical recluse who tosses off quips about how he won't take any breakfast he can't drink, and who even considers tossing his prosthetic leg at a well-meaning interloper on one occasion. He's undeniably crude, bad-tempered and ignorant, but his self-mocking sense of humor and no-nonsense attitude make him a perversely sympathetic character, vaguely reminiscent of some of James Ellroy's or James Lee Burke's more likable losers. Into his barren, loveless life comes Iris Mary Parfait, an ethereal mystery woman fleeing a violent past, who turns lost-cause Junior into her pet project. Of course Junior and Iris Mary fall in love; and, of course, Iris Mary's ostensibly dormant past blazes back into life, plunging the two into a corrupt world of crooked cops, shady lawyers and urbane Mafia dons. If only Wells had been able to decide exactly what kind of book he wanted to write,this could have been a full-on winner. As it is, its piquant and pugnacious analysis of its protagonist's deeply flawed character is ultimately tarnished by a series of trite confrontations with scowling, textbook villains and by Junior's rushed, unrealistic and oversimplified romance with the too-perfect Ms. Parfait. Agent, Joe Regal of Russell Volkening. 6-city author tour. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this vivid, spicy work, Wells returns to the Bayou country setting of his first novel, Meely LaBauve. Junior Guidry is a three-time loser well on his way to drinking himself into oblivion when a young woman named Iris Mary Parfait arrives at his trailer on the edge of the Great Catahoula Swamp. As Junior recounts some of the details of his sordid past, he learns from the ghostlike Iris Mary, an albino, that she is on the run. They soon find out that they have more in common than they first suspected in a tale ultimately involving attempted murder, rape, pornography, crooked police, and organized crime, Louisiana style. As this web of evil is about to close in around them, Junior summons new-found strength and almost reluctantly finds himself acting heroically when he realizes that his brief relationship with Iris Mary has already started to change him. Characters and events from the previous novel figure into the various twists that resolve the story. The energy levels off in the book's latter half, but Wells knows the lingo and rhythms of Cajun language and culture as only a native can, and his depiction of the lowlife Junior and his twisted psyche is gritty and humorous. Recommended for all fiction collections. Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A mildly interesting concoction from the author of Meely LaBauve (2000), this one featuring a down-and-out roustabout, a Mafia murder, and true love in the heart of a hard man, all of it fed through spicy regional dialect and local coloration. As we meet Joseph "Junior" Guidry, he lies flat-out broke, drunk, and in despair after losing his leg in a Gulf of Mexico oil rig accident. He successfully sued the oil company with the help of his lawyer, Syd Shainburg, and won a $150,000 settlement, but Junior blew it on drinks, women, and cars. Now he's waiting for something to come along that will change his situation. Through the bayou to Junior's trailer in the Great Catahoula Swamp comes Iris Mary Parfait, who imposes herself into his life-cooking, cleaning, and slowly healing him-but promises to stay out of his "business." The agreement doesn't hold, and soon Iris reveals she is on the run from a bar owner with Mob connections. While tending to Rocko Marchante's ailing mother, Iris saw the sexual terrors he inflicted on his women and was nearly subjected to them herself before she managed to injure Rocko and escape his horrific household. Just as Junior is starting to feel her pain and sharing some of his hurt with her, a "podnuh" shows up with news that Rocko has put a $100,000 bounty on Iris's head. She's captured, but Junior rescues her in a violent encounter that leaves Rocko and his men desperately wounded. Lawyer Shainburg shows up again, pulls some strings, does some research, and eventually brings down Rocko and the local Sheriff Ervil Geaux, leaving Junior and Iris free to marry and come to terms with their traumatic lives. Consistently lukewarm plot and painfully tidy conclusion,but Junior's character is strongly written, and Wells's sense of place confers a pleasing authority to his Cajun-style prose. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588360243
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/15/2001
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,273,697
  • File size: 228 KB

Meet the Author

Ken Wells, author of Meely LaBauve, is a senior writer and features editor for page one of The Wall Street Journal. In 1982, as ajournalist at The Miami Herald, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He lives with his family outside Manhattan.
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Read an 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.
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Reading Group Guide

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?




From the Trade Paperback edition.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2003

    Gumbo for the Soul!

    I just love it when I discover a new author whose work I really love. I read Wells' first book, Meely La Bauve about a month ago, loved it, gave it to my wife and she loved it too. She bought me a copy of Ken Wells' next book, Junior's Leg and I read this one on yet another long plane ride. I'm a writer myself (Allergy-Free Gardening, Safe Sex in the Garden) and I appreciate keen writing and this one has it! Wells has a different way of writing, with no quotation marks, and most of the time it is okay, it works, but now and then it makes some of the story be more in past tense than it needs to be. But other than that, I loved it and don't mean to nit-pick. I do wish Wells would write another book though and save his more than ample creativity for the story, and forget about re-creating punctuation. Junior's Leg isn't quite as funny as Meely LaBauve although it certainly does have its moments. It is a different story and a very different main character. Junior is such a low life, such a total loser, that in the beginning it is sometimes hard to cheer him on. But Junior does develop, he goes through a world of changes in this crazy little novel. The albino girl, the "Ghost," Iris Mary, she is a fabulous character. Lots of fun. Junior's Leg has perhaps more plot than the first one, and it's tight and certainly does keep the story moving right along. A real page turner. I'm going to be surprised if sooner or later Ken Wells doesn't turn into a bestselling novelist. He is mining very rich ore with these wonderful, deep, spicy, fun, and totally flavorful Cajun novels of his. I'm recommeding both Junior's Leg and Meely LaBauve to everyone I know who reads. If you haven't read either of them yet, you're in for a treat. Honestly. This is one cool read and when you're finished you'll be wanting to read more by Mr Wells. You can't miss with Junior's Leg. By the way, this book is sort of a sequel to Meely LaBauve so do read that book first. You read Meely and I'll bet you'll darn sure want to read more from this terrific new author. I know I do.

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