Picks and Pans Review: A Gathering of Old Men

updated 11/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Ernest J. Gaines

In the bayou country of today's Louisiana, the setting for this novel, the blacks are living out their lives in misery. Tractors are taking their jobs in the cane fields; the Cajuns are ruthless exploiters; the old plantation owners are enfeebled protectors of a dead past. Gaines, author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, turns these ideas into a lively, suspenseful tale that pivots on the shooting of a white man in the blacks' living quarters. A young white woman, who has been brought up mostly by a strong old black man, believes that he has committed the murder. To protect him, she sends word for every black man in the parish to come to his house and bring a shotgun with one shell fired. An assortment of the elderly shows up—ready for one last chance to get revenge for lifetimes of mistreatment at the hands of whites. Gaines has chosen to tell his story through the eyes of many different characters, a device that is annoying early in the novel because it is confusing. But toward the end, when a young college friend of the victim's brother becomes an observer, the device works to bring the various viewpoints together. Some of the telling, by children and unlettered old blacks, is also wonderfully effective. A scene in a rural bar, where the owner is trying to keep lynch-bound thugs from tearing up his place, is a powerful comment on a dying way of life. This is an engrossing novel which, despite its serious subject, is often very funny. (Knopf, $13.95)

From Our Partners