Louisiana writer James Lee Burke’s 2007 book of short stories, Jesus Out to Sea, does not disappoint. This collection of 11 stories–published in various periodicals–proves Burke’s prose remains lean as ever.
At this point, Burke’s written around 40 books. Some of this writer’s favorites of his work include: Half of Paradise, Two For Texas, The Lost Get Back Boogie, Black Cherry Blues, In The Electric Mist with Confederate Dead, Cadillac Jukebox, Dixie City Jam and Heaven’s Prisoners.
Burke’s style resembles Ernest Hemingway’s. Burke’s no-nonsense sentences paint vivid images. His characters create a dramatic forward movement with a clear sense of purpose. “Winter Light” tells the story of a retired college professor who must face individuals trespassing on his rural property to hunt.
A passage in a recent story called “The Night Johnny Ace Died” captures Burke’s spirit throughout his career: “Then we heard it, one shot, pow, like a small firecracker. Johnny’s dressing-room door was partly open and I swear I saw blood fly across the wall, just before people started running in all directions. Everyone said he had been showing off with a .22, spinning the cylinder, snapping the hammer on what should have been an empty chamber. But R&B and rock and roll could be a dirty business back then, get my drift? Most of the musicians, white and black, were right out of the cottonfield or the Assembly Church of God. The promoters and the record executives were not. Guess whose names always ended up on the song credits, regardless of who wrote the song?”
“Water People” revolves around a barge crew before Hurricane Audrey hit the Louisiana coast in 1957. “The Molester” goes back to 1949; “Texas City” and “Why Bugsy Siegel Was A Friend of Mine” transpired in 1947. “Burning of the Flag” begins in 1941 at Pearl Harbor which finds Burke covering decades of time in this 240-page book.
“Jesus Out to Sea”, the last story in this collection, exists as an unforgettable story of two New Orleans brothers running a mortuary who become involved with the mob. Burke’s lived through interesting times to get these stories down on the page.