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 
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.
Do YOU enjoy reading (or watching) screwball comedies? What is your favorite book or movie in this vein?
[JLS # 453]