A REVIEW OF
By Alexander Blevens
Paperback, 208 pages
Many bad choices collide in Mississippi Gulf Coast novel
By Timothy T. Isbell
Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger
USA TODAY NETWORK
For every choice we make, good or bad, there are consequences. Such consequences are not only felt by those who make them but by loved ones and future generations. This is the message Alexander Blevens gives in his novel “Bycatch”.
The novel chronicles a bad decision made by Airman Rex Thompson at Da Nang Airbase in 1970 during his service in Vietnam. Thompson’s decision not only affected him but also Captain Nguyen Duc Dung (Don Nguyen).
Flash forward 23 years in Biloxi, Thompson’s sons, Jake and Pigeon, make an even worse decision by scuttling a shrimp boat once owned by their father. The boat has been purchased from the bank by Nguyen. The Thompson boys’ choice inadvertently brings about Nguyen’s death. Now, scuttling the boat sparks a murder investigation.
Blevens weaves a tale involving greed, war, prejudice, revenge, murder, hate, regret, failure, alcoholism, justice, faith, love and ultimately forgiveness. It also includes the Vietnam War, the plight of the boat people escaping Vietnam, immigration to the United States and ultimately a new home in Biloxi.
After a brief stop in Galveston, Texas, “Bycatch” is primarily set in Vietnam and Biloxi. For anyone who has lived, visited or is just familiar with Biloxi, Blevens has done an excellent job of capturing the character of the town, its people and customs.
For the Biloxi novice, Blevens introduces newcomers to steamy hot summers, moonlit nights on Back Bay, shoo flies and live oaks, a shrimp harvest, the Fais do-do and the Blessing of the Fleet.
It isn’t until Nguyen’s daughter, Anh Truong, finds a journal by her murdered father that all the pieces of Thompson and Nguyen come together. The reader finds out the choices made by both men and the consequences that are now being felt by their families.
I enjoyed a walk down memory lane as the city of Biloxi became a vital character in this tale. Blevens used Coast landmarks appropriate for the time of this story. Such places as the Tivoli hotel, St. Michael’s Catholic Church, “chopsticks” shrimp boats, Biloxi’s East End, Point Cadet, even the fish meal factories along the waterfront in east Biloxi, brought back memories. Such memories came back in sights, smells, sounds and personal experiences of a time before casinos and Hurricane Katrina.
I particularly enjoyed references to the Vietnamese along the Mississippi Gulf Coast as I have my own connection to that community.
“Bycatch” is well written, well researched and a good read. On these hot summer days, “Bycatch” is a good book to read under a somewhat cool shade with a pitcher of iced tea.
Tim Isbell is a recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts/Knight Foundation Grant for his project documenting the Vietnamese people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the Sun Herald in Biloxi. He is a photojournalist with 38 years’ experience at The Sun Herald, The Brookhaven Daily Leader, The Natchez Democrat, The Tuscaloosa News and as a freelancer. He is the author of four books “Gettysburg: Sentinels of Stone”, “Vicksburg: Sentinels of Stone”, “Shiloh & Corinth Sentinels of Stone” and the “Mississippi Gulf Coast”.