“Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe,” by Jodie Cain Smith

Jodie Cain Smith

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Rodgers

When Alabama author Jodie Cain Smith made her debut as a novelist a few years back with her haunting novel, The Woods at Barlow Bend, I knew Smith was an author to watch. Impressed by her ability to gain reader empathy and craft historic fiction that drew me right in, I had high hopes that she would return with a second novel.

With the skill of a seasoned storyteller, Smith is back with a bold new tale, the evocative Bayou Cresting: The Wanting Women of Huet Pointe, a novel-in-stories released from Crowsnest Books. Steeped in the Southern gothic tradition, the story is told in multiple viewpoints and revolves around ten women in the swampy hamlet of Huet Pointe. Whether they reside in a plantation mansion, a slave shack, a modest doctor’s house, a funeral parlor, or the local brothel, their lives are connected in ways that change everything. Each woman is proactive in her own way, and each one is dealing with those who try to keep her down.

An outsider passing through here might get the impression this is another genteel enclave tucked away near a bayou, but for those who reside here, they know there’s a rotten underbelly. All ten women have one thing in common: they live in a patriarchal society with its oppressive rules and expectations. Within this society, exists a pecking order, from the white plantation owners to the town doctor to the owner of the general store. These men lord over their wives and servants. The potential for cruelty and mental and physical abuse abounds, especially when it comes to the way the whites treat people of color. It’s not just the men who can be cruel and heartless. Some women can be downright vicious, especially when it comes to payback. That being said, the author turns Southern stereotypes on their heads. Not all the whites are cruel. Young Coraline stole my heart. At eleven, she has a penchant for spying and wants nothing more than to ditch her stifling corset and petticoats and seek justice for the death of her mama and an innocent black man named JoJo.

The story opens with Mamba Loo, an aging voodoo priestess with her share of heartache, teaching lessons to the younger Sabine, a Creole beauty who knows how to read and write and keep secrets. Mamba Loo urges Sabine to hide things:

You ain’t no different from all of us. Here in Huet Pointe, we nothing to them. So, you got to learn. You got to become nothing. You got to empty yourself of all that pain and fill it up with what they don’t know.

Both Mamba Loo and Sabine dream of justice and life free of the demons of plantation life.

Along with young Coraline, the other white women include Maggie, as rough around the edges as her unsavory husband; and Ellie, lonely and stuck in a dead in job. She has a history with the prickly Ernestine, who prides herself in growing roses. Her neighbor, Rosarie, has shirked her marital duties and has a reason to visit the sheriff’s office. Lulu, the local madam, does whatever it takes to stay in business and thrive. And Anna Beth, with her garden of Angel’s Trumpet, needs to get her daughter Bonnie married for her own sense of security.

Bold, gritty, and entertaining, this is not your standard historical Southern novel. If you’re looking for Scarlet O’Hara, you won’t find her here. And that’s what makes this book so irresistible and refreshing. With a strong sense of place, I could feel the humidity and oppressive heat, smell the fetid swamp, imagine the powerful jaws of a resident alligator clamping down on its next victim.

Bayou Cresting is a story full of mystery, social justice, and resistance to the status quo. Each woman is resourceful in seeking emancipation from the dreaded expectations society has placed on her. How can a story set in the 1850s South apply to contemporary women in America? Look at the headlines. Even when I wasn’t reading the novel, I was thinking about the women of Huet Pointe and wondering what they would say to women today. Perhaps they would say, “You have a tool, a way to fight back against the oppressors that we didn’t have in our day. You have the right to VOTE. Don’t squander it.”

If you like fiction that is smart with an occasional touch of sass, author Jodie Cain Smith serves it up with solid prose and authentic dialog that rings true.

Jodie Cain Smith is a graduate of the University of South Alabama and Northern Michigan University. Her short works have appeared in The Petigru Review, Pieces Anthology, and Chicken Soup for the Military Spouse’s Soul.

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