Book Reviews

Stone Motel: Memoirs of a Cajun Boy by Morris Ardoin at University Press of Mississippi

Genre Gay / Historical / Recent (1970s) / Nonfiction
Reviewed by Kristin F. on 02-July-2020

Book Blurb

In the summers of the early 1970s, Morris Ardoin and his siblings helped run their family's roadside motel in a hot, buggy, bayou town in Cajun Louisiana. The stifling, sticky heat inspired them to find creative ways to stay cool and out of trouble. When they were not doing their chores—handling a colorful cast of customers, scrubbing motel-room toilets, plucking chicken bones and used condoms from under the beds—they played canasta, an old ladies’ game that provided them with a refuge from the sun and helped them avoid their violent, troubled father.

Morris was successful at occupying his time with his siblings and the children of families staying in the motel’s kitchenette apartments but was not so successful at keeping clear of his father, a man unable to shake the horrors he had experienced as a child and, later, as a soldier. The preteen would learn as he matured that his father had reserved his most ferocious attacks for him because of an inability to accept a gay or, to his mind, broken, son. It became his dad’s mission to “fix” his son, and Morris’s mission to resist—and survive intact. He was aided in his struggle immeasurably by the love and encouragement of a selfless and generous grandmother, who provides his story with much of its warmth, wisdom, and humor. There’s also suspense, awkward romance, naughty French lessons, and an insider’s take on a truly remarkable, not-yet-homogenized pocket of American culture.

 

Book Review

Like the Mississippi, this is a story that needs to unfold at its own pacing, this is not a story that can be rushed, this needs to flow at its own tempo complete with the turbulence of spring floods and the calm of summer evening backwater pools. 

 

This is part autobiography on growing up in rural Louisiana and part historical accounting of others living and working in rural Louisiana (Ville Platt, Eunice area). This roughly covers 1960 to 1980, with the formative years being the 1970s.

 

I’ll start with the historical aspect which really begins with the depression in the 1930s. I greatly appreciated the family backstory and key people who shaped and influenced events leading to the 1970s and 1980s and who were important to the Ardoin family and Morris. Some examples - where grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles, and parents speak Cajun French, but the children don’t or are discouraged from speaking; what it was like for the elders to grow up in the depression in Louisiana; and the love and losses those people endured. I don’t think this book would have been as strong or have as much impact if that history had been excluded.     

 

And this is also Morris’s story, middle child in a huge family, with a mother who worked full time in a hair salon and full time raising the children. With a father who didn’t know how to show love (another example of the importance of the historical backstory) and was probably dealing with what today would be diagnosed as PTSD. It’s a poignant and moving story that covers Morris’s formative teen years, his relationship with his siblings, his enduring love for his grandmother, playing cards, chores at the motel, and the ups and downs that come with life. 

 

I greatly enjoyed this autobiography – I laughed, I cried, and I mourned with each new chapter. However, there were a handful of items that pulled me out of the overall flow – the chapters told from a different (not Morris’s) point of view. The alternate voices were discordant for me, and I admit to wondering, does this pull it from autobiography to biography? The stories were necessary, but I’m not sure changing the point of view entirely worked. 

 

As I noted above, I greatly appreciated the historical background for the family members, for the lives they lead, but I did note several places where those stories were repeated more than twice. Rather than another retelling, I would have loved to have read something about another family member and the impact the situation was having on them.

 

This was a story that ended too soon. I really wanted to know what, after the hardship at the hotel, after the beatings, after the siblings left one by one and, once Morris left for college – what happened? Was it a relief? Did his life blossom? Did he find himself? How did his relationship with his siblings change? I wanted to know these things! For myself, the story ended to soon.

 

Overall, this was one of the best autobiographies/biographies that I have read in a long time. It’s emotional, engaging, and interesting. Perfect for reading on the porch on a warm summer day or curled up on the couch with a warm cuppa. It was a fascinating look at what it was like to grow up in the bayous of Louisiana. 

 

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by the author for the purpose of a review.

Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 264 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 15-April-2020
Price $14.75 ebook, $28.00 paperback
Buy Link https://www.amazon.com/Stone-Motel-Memoirs-Willie-Biography-ebook/dp/B084KW7364