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Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 5.4 (2002) 135-151
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A Sacramental Science Project in Tim Gautreaux's "Resistance"
L. Lamar Nisly
The action of grace changes a character. Grace can't be experienced in itself. An example: when you go to Communion, you receive grace but you experience nothing; or if you do experience something, what you experience is not the grace but an emotion caused by it. Therefore in a story all you can do with grace is to show that it is changing the character.
Flannery O'connor 1
LOUISIANA AUTHOR TIM GAUTREAUX claims that he inadvertently became an English major when he was in college. His plans of majoring in business were short-circuited, he says, when someone stole five accounting books that he had purchased. "I went to see my adviser," he reports, "and told him to put me in something where nobody would steal my books. He put me in English." 2 While the veracity of this account may be uncertain—Gautreaux admits that he is drawn to storytelling because "I liked to make up stuff and lie" 3 —what seems more telling than the factual quality is the understated and slightly surprising humor that comes through this account. For the wonder of Gautreaux's stories is that in the midst of accounts filled with less than remarkable, sometimes downright unlikable, small-town [End Page 135] characters, Gautreaux is able with memorable dialogue, pithy descriptions, and—often—a touch of the divine to help us see the humanity, growth, and grace in these characters. As occurs in much of his best fiction, Gautreaux's story "Resistance" reveals an unlikely hero, Mr. Boudreaux, quietly offering assistance to Carmine, the plain girl next door. While they work together on a science project—and even more clearly when he reconstructs the work after Carmine's father has destroyed the first project—Mr. Boudreaux becomes an agent of grace to this lonely girl. Emphasizing the mysterious quality of sacramental action, however, Gautreaux refuses to reveal if this offered grace has been received.
At a glance, Gautreaux would seem to be easy to label a Southern Catholic writer, but he resists at least a part of that designation. A professor at Southeastern Louisiana University since 1972 and a native of Louisiana, Gautreaux nevertheless argues that the title of "Southern writer" tends to confuse more than it clarifies:
I don't really understand what a "Southern" writer is. Writers just tend to write about their environment. If the South tends to be more poverty stricken, or has a less-educated population, or the politicians seem more arrogant, or there's a more intense devotion to religion, that's just the way it is. Perhaps the only difference I can perceive between a "Southern" writer and a non-Southern writer is that maybe the "Southern" writer loves where he lives more than other writers. 4
Instead of this category, Gautreaux identifies more closely with the Frontier tradition, with its mix of tall tale and humor. 5 On the other hand, Gautreaux accepts the weight of identification as a "Catholic writer." On a basic level, Gautreaux says he could not write about South Louisiana culture without encountering the Church because Catholicism so permeates all of life. 6 However, Gautreaux's commitment to portraying Catholicism is much more than cultural: he switched from writing poetry to fiction after taking [End Page 136] a seminar with Walker Percy, and he describes himself as "a Catholic writer in the tradition of Walker Percy. If a story does not deal with a moral question, I don't think it's much of a story." 7 He self-deprecatingly acknowledges, though, "I'm not a philosopher like Walker Percy. . . . I'm just a Catholic from the bayou. But it's one of the rhythms of life." 8 And from his stories, it would appear that this rhythm is an important element in how Gautreaux understands the world around him. In fact, he suggests that themes of moral...