Book Review: Sweet As Cane, Salty As Tears by Ken Wheaton

Sweet As Cane, Salty As TearsSweet As Cane, Salty As Tears
Ken Wheaton
Open Road Integrated, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-6246-7246-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

There is nothing more dangerous than a spooked rhinoceros. It is just before lunchtime when Huey, the prized black rhino of Broussard, Louisiana, erupts from his enclosure, trampling a zoo employee on his way to a rampage in the Cajun countryside. The incident makes the rounds online as News of the Weird, and Katherine Fontenot is laughing along with the rest of her New York office when she notices the name of the hurt zookeeper: Karen-Anne Castille—her sister.

Fifty years old, lonely, and in danger of being laid off, Katherine has spent decades trying to ignore her Louisiana roots. Forced home by Karen-Anne’s accident, she remembers everything about the bayou that she wanted to escape: the heat, the mosquitoes, and the constant, crushing embrace of family. But when forced to confront the ghosts of her past, she discovers that escape might never have been necessary.

The first thing that struck me about Sweet As Cane, Salty As Tears was the cadence of the language, the Cajun dialect. I spent a few years in Louisiana and was immediately taken back to that time. The sound of it felt accurate and, sure enough, the author hails from the very area he’s writing about.

Is this a happy book, a funny one? No; although there are spots of humor, especially when the sisters start going after each other, this really is a tale of the human condition, warts and all. The Fontenot family, down to all the grandkids and nieces and nephews, are a proud lot and make the most of what little they have in life but, above all, they are family. They may have major fights but, when all is said and done, they are loyal. Grand Prairie and Opelousas, Louisiana, are home to this Cajun clan.

When Katie-Lee aka Katherine left for New York City so many years ago, it was to escape a tragedy she just couldn’t cope with and, in doing so, she broke the hearts of all her siblings and her mother. Her life there has been fairly good but certainly not exciting or particularly comforting and she has little to look forward to other than more of the same. The occasional visit home was not enough to satisfy anyone and was never comfortable but they stayed in touch through Facebook. When tragedy strikes again, Katie-Lee heads home again and finds that perhaps it’s past time for a change.

The essence of the family connections and what all these people mean to each other is at the core of the story but it’s the characters themselves who captured my heart. The siblings—Kurt Junior, Karla-Jean, Kendra-Sue, Katie-Lee, Karen-Anne and Joey aka Kane are rambunctious, contentious, rowdy, smart, all the adjectives you can think of, and the sisters are like as not going to end up in a physical brawl just because it’s hot or somebody said something wrong. I appreciated Mama and Daddy, too, but it’s that bunch of kids I most enjoyed watching as they grew up and had families of their own.

As Southern fiction goes, Sweet As Cane, Salty As Tears is one of the most memorable books I’ve read and I’m going to go get an earlier book, The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival, to get another taste of the area if not these particular people. I do hope Mr. Wheaton intends to take us back there again soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.