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The Jealous Kind


The Jealous Kind

- Click here to read Roz Shea's review of the audiobook.

THE JEALOUS KIND may be the name of James Lee Burke’s new book, but it is also the name of a classic swamp pop ballad by Bobby Charles. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with that song will hear it echo in the background while reading this instant classic, a dark, rough-and-tumble, coming-of-age novel of tragedies and betrayals that rings so loud and true that it seemingly must be more autobiographical than fictional.

This latest book continues Burke’s ongoing exploration of the Holland family. Set in the early 1950s in Houston, THE JEALOUS KIND is narrated by Aaron Holland Broussard, the septuagenarian grandson of Hackberry Holland and son of James Eustace Broussard. Aaron narrates from the viewpoint of an adult of advanced age about events taking place some six decades previously, when he was in the throes of adolescence. The reader accordingly sees and feels Aaron’s teenage angst and aborning wisdom and maturity through the prism of several decades. It’s a bit of a play on the old “If I knew then what I knew now” but done here so uniquely and so well that at points it has the capacity to take one’s breath away. It is also helpful to note that people of that era generally achieved an emotional and psychological maturity at an earlier chronological age than occurs in our present time, for better and worse.

"THE JEALOUS KIND includes what may well be the best final paragraph that Burke has ever written. That is quite an accomplishment, considering the magnitude of what has gone before."

For Aaron, a pivotal moment occurs one evening when he intervenes in a lover’s quarrel between Grady Harrelson and Valerie Epstein. Grady is a couple of years older than Aaron and a world apart, in that high school hierarchy where Grady is known to all, while Aaron barely registers, if at all, on his radar. Valerie is that high school beauty who boys like Aaron worship from afar. Suddenly, Aaron, as a result of his interjection into her difficulties, finds himself up close and personal with her. These things happen, as we all know, but Grady’s family is well connected with the wrong people. What began as a simple act of courtesy on Aaron’s part soon spins unpredictably and dangerously out of control. The situation is in part compounded by Saber Bledsoe, Aaron’s best friend. Saber is fiercely loyal to Aaron, even as he is somewhat jealous of Aaron’s new and burgeoning relationship with Valerie.

As Aaron attracts the bad attention of Grady’s murderous associates and some local neighborhood toughs, Saber employs a creative mindset that is by turns effective, dangerous and frightening in its breadth and range. Aaron demonstrates layers of his temper that have not been previously plumbed, which serve him well in some instances while causing him difficulties in others. Matters become much more complicated when a local law enforcement officer suspects that Aaron and Saber are involved in a horrific murder involving a young Mexican woman, thus spinning a mystery into the narrative that compounds Aaron’s difficulties and ultimately results in a fiery and finite conclusion that is anything but predictable.

The primary focus of THE JEALOUS KIND is the incendiary uncertainty of first true love and the grief borne of deception that often accompanies it...and, of course, the unintended consequences of well-intended, if impetuous, acts that spin out of control. Burke recalls a Houston and an era that is all but forgotten with a clarity of vision and memory that is startling. One walks away from the novel with the all-but-inescapable conclusion that at least parts of the book are autobiographical, and the rest could have happened if it did not. It is certainly one of Burke’s most personal books, one that must have been painful to write. At the same time, Burke continues to prove that he is a master of similes. Watch for, among others, one dealing with a cement truck and another with familial depression.

Burke shows yet again, even at this stage of a long and brilliant career, that he can turn new gears in a manner unsurpassed by his contemporaries. And, in addition to its clarity, complexity and characterization, THE JEALOUS KIND includes what may well be the best final paragraph that Burke has ever written. That is quite an accomplishment, considering the magnitude of what has gone before.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 16, 2016

The Jealous Kind
by James Lee Burke

  • Publication Date: August 29, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • ISBN-10: 1501107410
  • ISBN-13: 9781501107412