Thursday, 22 March 2012
Creative Reworkings: 'The Canterbury Tales' again
I mentioned David Lodge's reworking of 'The Canterbury Tales' in my last post. Another reworking (which I prefer) is Tim Gautreaux's 'Died and Gone to Vegas' which you can read here or in Waiting for the Evening News, or in Same Place, Same Things, or in The Best American Catholic Short Stories.
The story features a group of workers on the significantly named Leo B. Canterbury, a steam dredge which is going nowhere because of the "high winter winds", who tell each other increasingly tall tales over a game of cards.
However, as the game progresses we discover that not only the Leo B. Canterbury but their pilgrimage is on hold. What all the characters want, as Gautreaux himself explains in an interview with the Mississippi Review, is "to go on some sort of pilgrimage [to] the secular shrine of Las Vegas. Or as the dredge's pilot puts it: "Hell, we all want to go to Las Vegas. Don't you want to take one of us along to the holy land?"
Their stories (or "lies") are wonderful and wonderfully told but it is the ending which brings us back, cleverly and subtly, to 'The Canterbury Tales'.
The story finishes with Nick, the story's one college boy, imagining one more story, a story of disappointment at the gambling tables and another journey, this time away from Vegas: "He saw her at last walking across the desert through the waves of heat, mountains in front and the angry snarl of cross-country traffic in the rear, until she sobered up and began to hitch, picked up by a carload of Jehovah's Witnesses driving to a convention in Baton Rouge in an un-air-conditioned compact stuck in second gear. Every thirty miles the car would overheat and they would all get out, stand among the cactus and pray. Raynelle would curse them, and they would pray harder for the big, sunburned woman sweating in the metallic dress. The desert would spread before her as far as the end of the world, a hot and rocky place empty of mirages and dreams. She might not live to get out of it."
Though untrue (because it is only one possible future), it is the only story within the story that isn't a "lie". And the journey away from "the secular shrine of Las Vegas" is the only true journey in the story too, a journey to a place empty of mirages where other greater journeys at least become possible.