By Pamela Tarajcak
After Barry Gifford published Perdita Durango, he followed up with Sailor’s Holiday, which reunites the characters six months after Sailor left Lula and Pace at the train depot. It’s a fast paced and short novella which sometimes has just a little too much plot.
Lula’s life is stalled working at the Cape Fear 7-Eleven, raising Pace, and not dating at all. Unhappy, she’s ready for change. Unfortunately, because of Sailor’s abandonment, Marietta retrogressed back into the manipulative mother and non committal woman, stringing along both Santos and Johnnie, inviting both to her birthday party. At the party, everyone, except Dal who knows him, meets Santos for the first time, which remember is different from the film where everyone knows and loathe Santos. Meanwhile, vagrant, depressed Sailor Ripley makes his way to New Orleans hoping the place that held happy memories might heal him. As he’s doing so, he runs into Perdita Durango, still on the run for various crimes.
In Metairie, a part of New Orleans, Lula and Pace are visiting Lula’s friend Beany now happily married to Bob Lee Boyle with two children. Without Marietta’s constant manipulation, Lula gains perspective and decides to stay perhaps getting a job with Bob Lee’s alligator deterrent business, “Gator Gone.” She does not know that Sailor’s also in town, staying at the Hotel Brazil. He instinctively knew that Lula’s in the city and desperately wants to reunite. Neither know that Perdita’s also in town, hooked up with another one of Santos’s lieutenants, Carmine “Poppy” Papavero who makes her feel like a woman for the first time in her life.
Panicking over Lula’s move, Marietta turns to Dal who, as always, tries to remind Marietta that Lula is living her life and it’s time that Marietta live her own. Dal also tries to make Marietta realize that she’s playing with fire with Santos, as he’s married, trouble, and already has a mistress, Mona Costatroppo. In a plot digression, Elmer Désespéré, a lonely teenage railroad engineer is wandering aimlessly and barefoot in New Orleans. It is unknown why he is in the story. Then, Beany and Lula have a conversation about their past relationships. Beany says that when Bob Lee gets angry he goes to the movies. She recalls once that Bob Lee returned with a funny look on his face. “After he seen it, Bob Lee couldn’t even eat. He wouldn’t let me go see it, though I wanted to. I woulda gone anyway, of course, but with Lance bein’ a baby then I didn’t get a chance. Bob Lee told me he coulda never imagined the awful behavior went on in that movie. He did say there was a couple pretty women in it.” Beany continues, “He said it made his brain shut down, like all the fuses blew.” (314). The women resolve out of curiosity to find it on VHS. The movie was Blue Velvet. Meanwhile, Santos, also in New Orleans, and Carmine talk business.
Through this, the reader has several questions. Where is this story going? Is this just going to be a gentle catch up with everyone? It seems out of style with Gifford’s plotting of past books. There has to be some lurid crime that happens at some point. What will make Sailor reconnect with Lula? Who is this Elmer fellow? Why include Perdita and Santos’s stories at all? It seems as if Gifford, for such a short novella, is starting to meander.
Suddenly the action picks up when Lula and Beany take their kids to the park and Pace wanders off with a barefoot teenager. Lula panics and wishes Sailor was with her. After an interlude where Mona Costatroppo is murdered just as she is ready to turn state’s evidence to the FBI, Sailor, reading the newspaper, finds out about the kidnapping and calls Lula promising to come. Marietta, finding out from Beany, is, of course, crazy with worry and calls, in this order: Santos to find her grandson, Dal and then Johnnie to come over and support her. Pace tries every which way to free himself from Elmer, the kidnapper. He just wants a kid brother to play with, and he latched onto Pace, who reveals himself to be a very deep and precocious kid.
The reunited Lula and Sailor talk to the cops at the police station, getting practically nowhere. When they’re walking out, Perdita spots them, as she’s waiting outside while Poppy talks to the police about some other matter; she is worried that Sailor may turn her in for the feed store robbery and sets out to kill him. Meanwhile while Elmer unsuccessfully tries to connect with Pace, Marcello reveals how he got the epithet “Crazy Eyes.” “He hated the nickname Crazy Eyes, but he had to agree with the old Don, Pietro Pericolo, who had given it to him when he was the Don’s driver, that his eyes were indeed very strange. The red pupils spun and danced inside the green irises, which were surrounded by yellow sparks.” (341). While Santos is reporting that no progress has been made to Marietta, Dal and Johnnie, Elmer leaves Pace locked up in a closet and goes out, just to be killed by a street gang, the Jungle Lovers. Bob Lee and Sailor who have become friends in the meantime, head out to conduct their own search for Pace; Perdita spots them and shoots at Sailor who survives not able to ascertain who shot him and continues his quest.
The next chapter “Out of this World” introduces and gives an entire backstory to Guadalupe DelParaiso, who, it turns out, is the owner of the house where Elmer rented his rooms. Going to investigate noises from his rooms, she inadvertently lets Pace out who runs as far and fast as possible to the nearest cop saying who he is and what needs to be done next. Told you he was a precocious kid. Meanwhile, the FBI agents on Santos’s trail, Sandy Sandusky and Morton Martin are bemoaning Mona’s loss who was their only way to finally nab Santos. They are contemplating their futures in whatever back-of-beyond field office they’ll be relocated to next, until someone else in Marcello’s criminal empire shows up to turn state’s evidence too.
“In the Wake of the News” reveals the denouement of the two plots. Marietta learns to her relief that Pace is safe but to her disappointment that Lula and Sailor have recommitted to their relationship permanently. They plan to stay in New Orleans where Sailor will work at Gator Gone and Lula will be taking care of Beany’s kids while Beany goes back to college. Since Johnnie will be going to New Orleans in a week, Marietta will tag along for a visit. Lula asks when Marietta will marry Johnnie; she doesn’t answer. Then Dal calls Marietta and tells her that Santos has been arrested. Marietta avers that Santos doesn’t deserve the treatment he’s getting, especially since Mona dug her own grave. Marietta contemplates, “Ain’t it somethin’, though, Dal, how it’s just one weird thing happens after another?” “Stay tuned,” said Dal, opening the front door. “I got a powerful hunch there ain’t never gonna be an end to it.” (360).
After Poppy and Jimmy Hunchback contemplate the fallout of Santos’s arrest, Poppy proposes to an assenting Perdita and says that he has found a house in Metairie . “It will be perfect, Perdita. We won’t know anybody there, and nobody will know us.” (362). Finally, though the couple is glad to be a family again, Sailor worries about Perdita; he tells Lula everything who reminds him that they are committed to each other now and will find a way through that bridge. They cuddle and profess their love for each other.
The book contains some funny dialog and has many of Gifford’s slice of life stories which are so common in these books, showing how the world is Wild at Heart and weird on top. Gifford also reconnects the characters (except for Perdita) in a very organic, natural way.
For such a slim book, only about 80 pages long, Gifford again packs in the plots. This book could suffer from having too much plot, as there was not just Pace’s kidnapping, but also Lula’s reuniting with Sailor, her developing friendship with Beany, his developing friendship Bob Lee, Marietta’s stalling relationship with Johnnie, Santos coming into the Fortune picture finally and the eventual downfall of his crime family, Perdita hooking up with Poppy and swearing to kill Sailor, and there is a lot of plot. Therefore, this book is far less focused than the previous two which had laser focused plots with very little extra story lines. Though, Gifford does keep everything moving and firing along like a bullet train since the chapters are so short, compensating for the plottiness. The only time when the plot actually stops was the rather pointless backstory of Guadalupe DelParaiso since she was basically the deus ex machina to freeing Pace and will probably never be heard of again. It was rather interesting how Gifford spent a lot of time giving a whole chapter of a backstory to Elmer before we as readers even knew that he was going to kidnap Pace. It may throw a reader for a loop not knowing the significance of the character way before he does his most critical piece of action in the book and he remains seemingly disconnected to any of the characters. It provided some nice mystery to him.
He retconned a lot between books 1 and 3, especially with Marietta. Marietta can’t help but meddle in her daughter’s life and manipulate her, just like she used to in the early parts of Wild at Heart. At the end of book one, she seemingly commits fully to Johnnie Farragut but now she’s back to having a bit of a love triangle between Johnnie and Santos and giving far too much leeway to Santos for Dal (and my own) comfort. It seems that things don’t change. Sailor and Lula’s reunion is truly a wonderful end for the book. One can’t help but wonder if Gifford saw the wonderful ‘happy ending’ in Lynch’s film and liked that better than his Sailor abandons Lula and Pace ending and decided to finagle a way to get those two soulmates back together again? One also can’t help but wonder if he also liked the way that Lynch created the tension between the love triangle of Santos, Johnnie and Marietta and decided to make that more prominent or liked manipulative Marietta better than understanding Marietta?
Since there was no criminal conspiracy against Sailor and Lula in Book One, the criminal underworld, through Santos, actually starts helping the young couple by helping them find their son. Though it’s a fruitless search because the precocious kid rescues himself! Seriously, Pace’s childlike wisdom, besides Beany, Johnnie and Dal being such grounding forces for the flighty Fortune women, was pretty much some of the best characterization in the book. I love precocious cute kids and he was pretty much perfect.
The book continued Gifford’s fine tradition of funny dialog, slice of life stories, and fine character development, especially with Lula who’s getting more and more grounded as Marietta becomes more and more flighty. Therefore, in many, many ways Gifford acts as a magician by diverting attention from his very blatant structural weaknesses by doing sleight of hand with these strengths that he utilizes so well to make the reader whole-heartedly entertained.
The version of the book I quote from is:
Gifford, Barry. Sailor and Lula: The Complete Novels. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2010. The Barnes and Noble Nook E-Book edition.