For author and Crowley native Martin Pousson, such inertia is part of the dilemma surrounding the modern-day Cajun. It is a culture that has been denied its true identity, he says, leaving its members with a sense of loss.
"I'm really concerned with the future of Cajun culture," Pousson says, speaking by phone from his apartment in New York City. "It's been terribly reduced. It's become on the national level a commodity. It's Tabasco; it's cayenne pepper; it's boudin; it's something that you can buy. It will entertain you like a minstrel character -- we're always wisecracking."
Pousson, a graduate of Carencro High School who currently teaches writing at Rutgers University, began the novel while taking an undergraduate course at Loyola University taught by Christine Wiltz. As evident in the tattoos on his arms of the fleur-de-lis and the sacred heart, he considers his culture to be an indelible part of him.
"To me there's a terrible gravity in being Cajun. There's something really fantastically dreary about it. It shares a kinship with its topography -- it's gloomy, overcast and swampy. These to me are the characteristics of Cajun culture more than any others."
Pousson reflects this mood in No Place, Louisiana, his first novel. Nita and Louis are teenagers growing up during the 1960s in south Louisiana. Nita is desperately impoverished: she can't afford to wear shoes to school, and she is living in a despondent home with an abusive stepfather who describes her as "a conniving moocher who wastes too much toilet paper." Louis is a recent high school graduate and the only son of a proud and successful rice farmer. The two meet on a blind date, and although Nita's impression of Louis is that he is rude and cheap, she feels she has no other choice. Without ever having shared so much as a kiss, Louis shows up at Nita's door with a ring. She accepts with the hope that the wedding will be her means of escape.
For Nita, who will constantly search for change and prosperity just around the corner, this is just her first dream despoiled. As she and Louis drive to their reception, she remembers how free she thought she would feel. But, writes Pousson, "she didn't feel free at all." By contrast, Louis suffers no disillusionment. As he looks at Nita during the ceremony, writes Pousson, "he recalls the Spanish meaning of her name, Bonita, 'Beautiful.'"
Pousson had originally intended No Place, Louisiana to be Nita's story, but says that when he started to provide Louis with a voice, the novel began to take on another meaning. "My problem was I couldn't make Louis breathe on the page," Pousson explains. "He just seemed like a monster because she was telling the story. It was a singular perspective. He never spoke; you couldn't understand his motivation -- it made no sense. So I tried experimentally writing from his point of view. When I did, I discovered there was this whole other story that wasn't being told.
"And that's when I got more excited about the book because it's an explanation of what is the relativity of truth. It's almost as if they're on trial and they're bearing witness. You can never really tell which one is ultimately right. And I don't know if either one of them is absolutely right in their version."
What is absolute is the book's somberness. "I didn't want to write the kind of story where everything is resolved because that's not the way things go," Pousson concludes. "One of the things I love about Cajun music is that it's always unresolved. There are laments and the laments are continuous. That's why Emmeline Labiche, not Longfellow's Evangeline, is the right heroine for the culture because she sits under the oak tree waiting endlessly. Longfellow totally corrupts the story by giving us a false ending of Evangeline embracing her lover right before death. The truth is Emmeline never finds her lover and that's too often how life goes for us."