Letourneau’s Used Auto Parts ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Letourneau’s Used Auto Parts by Carolyn Chute is set in Maine. Big Lucien Letourneau is the patriarch of a large family of uneducated miscreants and malcontents. Big Lucien has had many wives and many children. Whatever else these characters may be lacking in life, they always have plenty of children. Big Lucien has a “heart of gold.” He has lots of cats and he will give a place to stay to just anybody who needs it, family or otherwise.
Big Lucien owns a salvage yard containing rows and rows of wrecked cars. He barely makes enough money to keep going, but he employs several earthy men. As one of Big Lucien’s employees says, the salvage yard is the “goddamndest hellhole I’ve ever worked in.” I’ve felt that way about some of the jobs I’ve had, so I know exactly what he’s talking about.
Blackstone Babbidge (“Gene”) is one of Big Lucien’s employees at the salvage yard. He lives in a trailer park called Miracle City. His wife, Lillian Greenlaw, is one of Big Lucien’s former wives. Lillian’s freewheeling daughter, Junie Greenlaw, is one of Big Lucien’s many children. Gene Babbidge is Junie’s stepfather. Junie has been “messing around” with her stepfather (these people don’t bother with social conventions), so she is pregnant by him. Her mother doesn’t know who the father of Junie’s baby is, only that she is pregnant with a pregnancy that makes her sick a lot of the time.
Crude, foul-mouthed Maxine Letourneau is also one of Big Lucien’s former wives. Her children by Big Lucien include Norman, who marries a hippie woman, and Little Lucien, a sullen fifteen-year-old bodybuilder.
Severin Letourneau is Big Lucien’s half-Indian nephew. When he is sixteen, he impregnates Gussie Crocker, also sixteen, and they get married. Severin is also one of Big Lucien’s employees at the salvage yard. Severin and Gussie don’t have the money to pay their rent and are evicted. Big Lucien sets them and their two small children up in a thrown-together house in the woods that doesn’t pass code. That’s another of Big Lucien’s problems: the “code man” is after him for his various code violations.
Letourneau’s Used Auto Parts is a funny and engaging exploration of the lives of people living at the bottom of the socioeconomic heap. I read this book once before and fondly remembered it enough through the years to go back and read it again. We wouldn’t want the feckless Letourneaus living in our neighborhood, but we can wallow in their lives on the printed page and come away unscathed. That’s the magic of books.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp