Cunningham, Linda S. “Early Thursday: A War, A Hurricane, A Miracle!”, BookBaby, 2020..
A Deadly Fury and a Search for Self
Having experienced Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans fifteen years ago, I was anxious to read Linda Cunningham’s “Early Thursday”, a fictional novel about Hurricane Audrey who preceded Katrina by some 48 years.
The story is told by 12-year-old Walt LaCour, as “he struggles to find himself and learn his true identity amid the backdrop of a terrifying and deadly Hurricane Audrey on the Cajun bayou in post-World War II Louisiana.” Walt’s coming-of-age story is interrupted by the hurricane. Writer Cunningham, a native Louisianan, gives us a very powerful look at what happened during the days leading up to the storm and its aftermath. There were times that I was actually shaken as I read since it reminded me so much of how it was to be in New Orleans before Katrina hit and then after.
At twelve-years-old Walt lives a happy existence that is filled with adventure in the Cajun-French area of Cameron, Louisiana. If you have ever been to that area of Louisiana, you know that life there is filled with the joy of being alive. In Cameron, Walt has a colorful and eccentric collection of family and friends. Among them is his alcoholic father Walt Sr. who becomes abusive when drunk and whose alcoholic habit gives his son a sense of constant tension. alcoholic father whose drunken rages lead to constant tension. As the storm nears, Walt discovers his mother’s leading him to question who his real father is.
Then the storm comes and we witness chaos and destruction as the people deal with feelings of confusion. Walt survives but he is faced with seeing death all around him.. Years later, when he sat down to write his memories of that time, he finds himself haunted by the hesitation he felt in saving his father’s life. The almost five hundred people who lost their lives with the storm are memories that Walt is never able to forget. souls lost their lives from the hurricane. Those terrible memories would stay with Walt his whole life.
During the storm, it was not easy for Walt. He was able to escape the fury and begin his odyssey for love and the meaning of life. We, the readers, become part of Walt’s search for identity and resolution.
Hurricane Audrey was one of the deadliest tropical storms in American history. It came some ten years after the end of World War II and the people of Cameron were beginning to relish again in their Cajun-French culture. People were feeling good and for Walt, life was good. This is aside from this poor relationship with his father and his discovery of his mother’s diary which makes him wonder who his real father is. returns to southwest Louisiana. Spirits are buoyed, and for twelve-year-old Walt LaCour, life is idyllic—except for the caustic relationship with his father. As years pass and Walt looks back on his life, he believes that knowing and understanding his history will allow him to find the peace he seeks. During Hurricane Audrey, he faced his own mortality. When he got to college he was taunted by a schoolmate about the secrets he had had never shared with anyone. This caused him to think that perhaps he did not realize all that had happened in the storm.
Cameron is a beach town on the Gulf of Mexico. It is a small town with a close-knit community of inhabitants that have lived there for generations and whose histories are intermixed . It is not far from Lake Charles and I remember that as a young man, I would drive to Lake Charles from New Orleans on Sundays to teach at the religious school of the local Jewish temple. I always made it a point to have lunch in Cameron and listen to stories of the locals. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my young life.
Unless you have ever experienced a hurricane, you can imagine what it is like to wait for it to come and then try to ride it out. I will never forget how I felt when I ventured out three days after Katrina hit. Seeing death and destruction anywhere will always remain with me, much like Walt felt after Audrey.
Cunningham introduces us to real people who even though are fictional characters reflect the feelings of those of Cameron who faced an either lived or died through the storm. While I was unnerved by what I read (because the book became so personal), I am quite sure that I will read it again and again. You should do the same.