Welcome to the series where authors in the Cafe and Bookstore an extract from their most recent book. If you are in the Cafe, and would like to participate you can find all the details here: Share an Extract
Today Elizabeth Gauffreau shares an extract from her novel Telling Sonny set in the 1920s
About Telling Sonny
Forty-six-year-old FABY GAUTHIER keeps an abandoned family photograph album in her bottom bureau drawer. Also abandoned is a composition book of vaudeville show reviews, which she wrote when she was nineteen and Slim White, America’s self-proclaimed Favorite Hoofer (given name, LOUIS KITTELL), decided to take her along when he played the Small Time before thinking better of it four months later and sending her back home to Vermont on the train.
Two weeks before the son she had with Louis is to be married, Faby learns that Louis has been killed in a single-car accident, an apparent suicide. Her first thought is that here is one more broken promise: Louis accepted SONNY’s invitation to the wedding readily, even enthusiastically, giving every assurance that he would be there, and now he wouldn’t be coming. An even greater indignity than the broken promise is that Louis’s family did not bother to notify Faby of his death until a week after the funeral took place. She doesn’t know how she can bring herself to tell Sonny he mattered so little in his father’s life he wasn’t even asked to his funeral…
An extract from the book
So there she was, trundled onto a train for the two-day ride north, Louis’s fellow players having taken up a collection to pay for a Pullman ticket and meals in the dining car. She could feel the long reach of the locomotive’s engine, thrumming and throbbing, as it built up enough steam to pull the string of cars back through the Deep South, up through the Carolinas, around the Delmarva Peninsula, and finally up into New England, like a motion picture playing in reverse, the end of the film coming loose from the reel in Saint Albans, flapping around and around and around until the projectionist finally stopped it.
Louis hadn’t seen her off, the departure time for her train conflicting with his call time for the matinee. Maisie had called for the taxicab and stood at the curb to wave goodbye as it pulled away, and at the station, the cab driver had found the porter to see to her suitcase.
As she waited for the train to pull out of the station, Faby scanned the faces of the people on the platform, looking for one that regretted the departure of his loved one, wanting nothing more than to see her step off the train and run back into his arms. But all seemed indifferent, turning their backs to walk away before the train had even begun to move. Even so, she continued to watch the platform, waiting for someone to turn around and wave, someone to cry out, I’ll miss you!
After several false starts, the train began to move, drawing away from the platform, making its way through the maze of tracks in the train yard, warning bells clanging, We’re leaving, we’re leaving! By the time conductor came through to punch her ticket, they had left the begrimed Birmingham skyline behind, factory chimneys obliviously disgorging black smoke.
Passing through Alabama to reach their first major stop in Atlanta took a surprisingly short time, as the train sped through acres of stubbled farmland, the brittle remains of the previous year’s crop unidentifiable, here and there being turned under by a lone man behind a mule and a plow. After the train had come to a stop at the Atlanta station, she stood up with the other passengers to get off, needing to walk to try and ease the swelling in her feet and ankles. As she stepped off the train, she misjudged the distance and stumbled. If there hadn’t been a porter there to catch her, she would have fallen.
“Is there someone with you, Missus?” he said as he stood by her side to ensure she had regained her footing.
She shook her head. “I’m traveling alone.”
“There should be someone with you, Missus,” he said, turning away to finish his sentence as he helped a woman with two young children, “in your condition.”
One of the recent reviews for Telling Sonny
Telling Sonny is the sad, wonderful tale of Faby Gauthier, a small-town Vermont girl just coming of age who is seduced by a smooth-talking vaudeville actor whose stage name is Slim White. After he leaves town Faby finds she is pregnant. She eventually tracks him down and they are married, much to the chagrin of her conservative French-Canadian family. Louis Kittel (Slim’s true name) then brings Faby south, from city to town, show to show and the whole while her hopes of this man she barely knows turning into a reliable and loving husband and father begin to fade.
As the book moves along the author Elizabeth Gauffreau does a masterful job of pulling the reader right into the 1920s—the colorful description, imagery and period-perfect word selection makes the reader wonder if this might actually have been some gifted writer’s diary from the early 20th century that was turned into a novel.
By the middle of the book I was invested emotionally in Faby’s plight, and strongly disliked the lying, cheating Slim White and in each chapter I hoped he would either come around and change for Faby’s sake (and the sake of his child), or that Faby would simply leave him. Alas, neither of those things truly came to pass, and near the end I wondered if this was just one of those unhappy stories that was well- and intentionally written to do nothing other than evoke sorrow and melancholy. I was delighted to find, however, that this wasn’t quite the case, as the final two chapters seemed to bring closure to Faby’s unfortunate story.
All in all, a beautifully written, evocative, sad, and curiously happy story I will remember for a long time to come.
About Elizabeth Gauffreau
I have always been drawn to the inner lives of other people–what they care about, what they most desire, what causes them pain, what brings them joy. These inner lives become my characters. I write to tell their stories.
My fiction and poetry have been published in literary magazines, including Rio Grande Review, Serving House Journal, Soundings East, Hospital Drive, Blueline, Evening Street Review, and Adelaide Literary Magazine, as well as several themed anthologies. Telling Sonny is my first published book.
I hold a B.A. in English/Writing from Old Dominion University and an M.A. in English/Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire. Currently, I am the Assistant Dean of Curriculum and Assessment at Champlain College Online in Burlington, Vermont.
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