Rampart & Toulouse by Kristin Fouquet
Rank Stranger Press, 2011
Rampart & Toulouse is shorty of a book, including three brief stories and ending with a novella. The first piece, “Becoming Obsolete,” is the shortest by far. It follows two men, the owner of a business that fixes refrigerators–Lucky, who can’t smell–and his apprentice, Chris. I couldn’t believe the first story I read for my ladies-only website was about two men!
“Becoming Obsolete” was too short, in my opinion. Fouquet opened questionable doors and slammed them shut quickly. The first client of the day is Miss Millie, whose fridge won’t work, but Lucky can’t fix it because it needs what the E.P.A. forbids: Freon. Miss Millie can’t afford a new fridge. What happens to the old lady, who we’re told doesn’t take to white people? The next job is to change the light bulb in the fridge. The homeowners alone are a novel’s worth of story, but the door is closed in my face! What happens, and could Lucky’s inability to smell play a role? Both “Varietals” and “Paris is the Pretty One” continue in the same fashion. I felt that just when Fouquet was hitting her stride, the story ended abruptly.
Another element of these three short pieces was a tendency to tell the reader what’s going on, rather than show (the cardinal rule of writing). I don’t think that Fouquet is a weak writer, but perhaps one who worries that she isn’t communicating effectively with her audience. Case in point, when a narrator learns that her sister Claire is being committed to a mental hospital just before the narrator leaves for a high school trip to Paris, the narrator can’t help but think of Claire constantly. Fouquet provides beautiful imagery that I could interpret on my own: “The ornate gilded elevator [in the Paris hotel] was more beautiful than any I had ever seen. Yet I felt suspicious of it, a lovely cage to entrap. Claire.” The image suggested trapping, as elevators tend to, but this elevator even has bars, making the idea clearer, and more beautiful. Perhaps we do not need “entrap,” or a reminder of “Claire.” These “flags,” placed there to ask readers, “Are you following me, because this is where I’m going!” were not necessary.
The longer the story, the better Fouquet is! I enjoyed my time in her novella of the same name as the collection. Twenty-three-year-old Vivienne Diodorus rents a room in a house on the corner of Rampart and Toulouse, who claims the room is fantastic for its natural light. She can’t pay her electric bill, but finds creative ways to get along, including hanging out with the kindly Irish priest (a cliched description, unfortunately) and the homeowner “Sweet Sue,” an obese black-skinned woman who calls Vivienne “honey child” upon meeting her (again, unfortunately, cliched, and I cringed a bit here). But! Neither the priest nor Sweet Sue are cliched in personality. They were funny, had interesting histories (the priest performs a baptism for a litter of puppies dressed in christening gowns for a rich gay couple), and cared for Vivienne. My favorite character, though, was Lance, whom we think is a metal head but reveals himself to be an Elizabeth Taylor fan. Vivienne and Lance watch a Liz Taylor film together and share a personal moment:
“He reached over and pulled her hair up to her chin. ‘You know, with a cut, you could have Liz’s hair.’ Vivienne’s normal reaction of avoidance was replaced by entertainment. Instead of the reflex to pull back, she reached for his long hair. ‘I believe you could, too.’ His wide smile exposed a few crooked teeth. He emitted an unexpected squeal. ‘I’ll do mine if you do yours.’ Perhaps it was the alcohol, but she agreed. ‘Let’s do it right now.’”
Overall, I thought Fouquet’s strengths were her ideas. I dare her to write more, to push harder, and produce some longer works to fully expose the talents she has.