A Screwball Hoot from Bayou Land

My Review of Cajun Gold (by Ron Barthet)

By Jeff Salter

About nine weeks ago, I invited a former classmate from southeast Louisiana to be my Guest Hound… and I had a great time asking Ron Barthet all sorts of questions. We discussed his background, his writing, his art, his photography… and other things I can’t even remember right now. [To check out that interview, click here: https://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2019/07/11/guest-hound-ron-barthet/ ]

At that time, I promised I’d use one of my future Book Review weeks to run my 800-word review of his screwball comedy, Cajun Gold. Through no fault of Ron’s I’d mistakenly acquired an earlier edition of his novel. One of the differences (between the two versions) is that in the one I read the meteorite weights 300 pounds, while in the more recent edition, it’s only 200 pounds. No doubt there are other changes between the two versions, but I’m sure it has not dampened the screwball humor of the plot and characters.

Cajun Gold

Cajun Gold [2007]

By Cliff Madison [Ron Barthet]

Review by Jeff Salter

Loving screwball comedies as I do – whether on film or in novels – I knew I’d enjoy this romp in bayou land… and I did, indeed. But before I discuss this specific novel, let me lay a teeny bit of groundwork on the genre it represents.

It’s important to approach a screwball comedy with the proper set of expectations. It’s a terrible shame – and waste of solid comedic writing – for some straight-laced, prune-faced individual to watch or read a screwball comedy and say (gruffly), “That would never happen in a million years.” Obviously, such a viewer/ reader totally misses the point! Just as you know a movie musical will have song-and-dance numbers, you definitely KNOW a screwball comedy will be filled with zany characters and situations. Craziness is a fundamental part of the screwball territory… and a willing viewer / reader will readily embrace it.

More specifically, a screwball comedy begins with a totally improbable situation — in this case, a massive meteorite landing within about 50 feet of our hero, Bernard Dumaine. Looks to be solid gold… but is it? The next step (in a screwball) is for the main character to make the first of MANY misguided and far-fetched decisions. Yes, that’s what makes it a screwball — from the git-go, hardly anyone does or says anything logical or appropriate. And, of course, in the middle of Dumaine’s first effort to DEAL with this heaven-sent bounty, somebody will certainly witness him in the act.

I won’t reveal too many details here, so as not to spoil the story. Suffice it to say that Dumaine wants to keep his find a secret, but HAS to tell a couple of people in order to get the information and assistance he needs. Can he trust those two or three intimates to keep the news quiet? What do you think? It’s a screwball comedy!

When Dumaine arrives at a solution to ONE of his several obstacles, he decides to involve his household toilet bowl… and in a screwball comedy it’s perfectly natural for him to ignore that he might actually need the toilet later for other more obvious reasons. Does it bother him that a curious TV reporter – with camera rolling – is in the very next room while Dumaine is in the middle of all this odd behavior? Uh, not too much. It’s a screwball.

Apropos for a screwball comedy, nearly every step Dumaine takes – in hopes of making things better – naturally, instead, just make everything worse. And another “rule” of screwball-land, in the mind of the hero: the more convoluted the plan, the better. Simple and direct solutions are banned from the story from its outset.

Dumaine’s not in this caper alone, of course. He tells his wife a few general details and she takes off like she’s an integral expert on the situation and fully able to brief any and all (including reporters). Dumaine has a bumbling neighbor and another friend… and, naturally, their well-intentioned missteps keep our story rolling along, much as the 300-pound sphere of solid gold might do if ever turned loose.

One caveat: merely an observation, rather than a complaint. With Cajun characters living in the South Louisiana bayou region, you might expect a lot of endearing vocal nuances — the cadence, vernacular, and sentence construction that is uniquely Cajun. The author provides a hint of the phrasing and rhythm of typical Cajuns, but readers will NOT have to struggle through heavy dialect. Editors and publishers don’t like heavy dialect for a number of reasons — primarily, it can be difficult to read and comprehend — if you don’t believe me, try reading Faulkner. In this story the author avoids that problem but still reveals an occasional feel for the flavor of Cajun language and expression. Some writers might handle this by letting the narrator relate in perfect English while allowing the characters to speak – partly or wholly – in dialect. In this novel, however, the narrator is Dumaine himself… and when he’s narrating, his grammar and sentence structure is almost always excellent.

Given the circumstances (as they have evolved through Dumaine’s bumbling… and the uncontrollable actions and reactions of others in his community) of the story’s final act, you’ll rightly wonder if there’s any possible way he can avoid losing EVERYthing. Any guesses? In a screwball comedy, you’re never quite sure how all the craziness will settle down enough for most of the situations to wrap up. I was surprised and quite pleased with the way this author tied up these loose ends. [I should note that it’s NOT easy to surprise me with an ending to a screwball story.]

Cajun Gold is an enjoyable romp, with engaging and likeable characters bumbling their way through fortune and misfortune. Besides the slapstick situations, there is sly humor throughout — even in the chapter headings! If you love screwball comedies, as I do, you’ll want to read this one.

Question:

Do YOU enjoy reading (or watching) screwball comedies? What is your favorite book or movie in this vein?

Buy link:

https://app.thebookpatch.com/BookStore/cajun-gold/88db149a-cd1b-47a6-9f80-689962e8c53b

[JLS # 453]

 

 

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About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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15 Responses to A Screwball Hoot from Bayou Land

  1. Straight-laced…prune-faced individual??? Okay then. Don’t consider myself in THAT category, but I’ve never been a fan of slapstick comedy. Not even as a kid.

    My dad used to watch Abbot and Costello, Jimmy Gleason, and Red Skelton. The only ones he’d watch that I could tolerate were Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Lucille Ball (whom I really enjoyed for some reason).

    That said, I don’t normally read a book along those lines. But there are many people who do love that type of comedy. I prefer the more subdued comedy. A normal person or couple put into an awkward and comical situation where maybe they make a few wrong decisions that any of us might make and get into trouble because of it. The characters in my books wind up in those kind of situations or just have fun with life and love to tease. I do love a good laugh, but slapstick, in general, has never done it for me. But to each their own. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jbrayweber says:

    Nice review!

    Books – Patrick McManus
    Movies – Mel Brooks (hands down!)

    Like

    • Jeff Salter says:

      thanks, Jenn.
      Not familiar with McManus.
      Quite familiar with Brooks and I like a lot of his stuff. Where Brooks fails (in my opinion) is when he takes what would’ve been a very funny gag and milks it to death. Jerry Lewis often did the same thing… to the same effect.
      Of course, comedy is a very subjective matter.

      Like

  3. Absolutely LOVE the likes of “Bringing Up Baby”, “My Favorite Wife”, etc. in movies. In books, I love Parnell Hall’s “Puzzle Lady” books and well, say, “One Simple Favor” by a certain party we all know and love.
    This sounds incredibly funny and well-crafted. I am also hard to ‘catch’ with an ending, and love a writer who can do it.
    Oh, Wow, another for my TBR list, nearer the top.
    I imagine that he realized that 200 lbs was a lot easier to deal with then 300 lbs.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Yes, 200 fits the story much better and he was wise to change it.
      I think the two editions have different numbers of pages, also. But I can’t recall which is which.
      And THANKS for your compliment about my novella, One Simple Favor.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I enjoyed Ron’s book, and as I mentioned in my collection of reviews for July, it had me giggling aloud. As for screwball in general, I like it as an occasional break, but I’m not sure I’d want to read a constant stream of them. Just enough to keep my face from getting pruny! I just finished reading another funny story set in Louisiana that I’ll share later this month.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Absolutely agree that a steady diet of screwball would be too much (for me)… and likely for most viewers / readers.
      And, as I noted elsewhere, sometimes I’m just not in the mood for a funny tale.
      I’m eager to see which Louisiana story you come up with.

      Like

  5. ronbarthet6469 says:

    Jeff, thanks for clearing up that difference between the early edition and the latest edition. Carrying around 300 lbs. of gold may not be impossible, but even 200 lbs. is a challenge, I would think. I decided to lighten the load, literally, on my main character and to keep him from throwing his back out, so we went with 200 lbs. Me, I would have used a hand truck dolly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      ah, yes… you and I — and every other sane individual — would’ve used a hand truck, but in a screwball comedy, you’d get the assistance of a kid who happened by and would be tempted to blab what he saw…
      Anyhow, for whatever it weighed, it made a delightful tale.

      Like

  6. Elaine Cantrell says:

    Nice review, Jeff. Sounds like something I might like.

    Liked by 1 person

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