Contributor Spotlight: Excerpt from Gumbeaux by Kimberly Vargas

January 5, 2010

J.P. Deacon
Orion Publishing
One Market Place
Bethesda, Maryland

Dear Mr. Deacon:

I wanted to express my deepest appreciation that you have agreed to write my biography. Your reputation as a journalist of factual integrity was one of several reasons I approached you for this assignment. There have been many inaccuracies and misperceptions printed about the Fait family over the years, and this is an opportunity to set the records straight.

After much deliberation/consideration, I have decided to disclose my diaries for your perusal. They span the years of 1986 to present day. Through them you will gain greater insight into the Fait “art empire”, as you described it during our last conversation.

Thank you and please know if you have any questions. I look forward to hearing your reaction.


Mary Fait
Musée Fait
100 NW Embassy Avenue
Washington, D.C.


January 1986
I’ve never kept a diary before. Scary stuff. Let’s see how it goes. My name is Mary Veronica Fait and I’m sixteen years old. I lost my parents about five years ago. They died on the way back from Chesapeake Bay. They were driving home with my Uncle Claude. One minute they were all excited about coming home, the next Claude was calling Grandma Marguerite in a panic, crying because he lost control of the wheel and drove the car off an embankment. My parents both died and Claude survived. I survived too, but am not quite the same. The shock fractured my soul, and the loose part keeps shifting around, edgy and restless.
Claude (Dad’s brother) is now my guardian. Grandma Marguerite is in a nursing home so there is no other option. Claude used to do a decent job of taking care of me but started drinking a couple of years ago. Things have gotten progressively worse. He gets very mean when he drinks. When he’s sober, everything is fine. Lately, he’s not sober much. Losing my parents has been hell every day on earth. It’s been hideous and frustrating and lonely and angry and mad and sad and miserable and sometimes I just want to walk off a tall building.
We’re not a normal family for many reasons, but primarily because my grandfather was Jean-Luc Fait. In case you’re not an art person, Jean Luc-Fait was one of the most successful artists of the 20th century. He was a Modernist, a contemporary of Picasso and a he-man in general. Granddad lived from 1890 to 1980. He died when I was ten. He came to America in 1921 and set up residence in New Orleans. About thirty years later, he and Grandma Marguerite moved to Washington, D.C. They bought our present home, a huge place on Capitol Hill.
Things were just starting to normalize after the death of my parents when Claude decided to turn our family home into what it is today, the Musée Fait. He brought back all my grandfather’s paintings from their worldwide tours and traveling exhibitions and had them displayed at home. Then, with the assistance of our family lawyer, Dante, Claude followed the appropriate steps to turn our Victorian on Capitol Hill into a museum.
People are more than happy to pay a shitload to visit the home of one of America’s greatest painters. We had always been comfortable, but with Claude running things, the money really started rolling in like you wouldn’t believe. It was terrifying to see how powerful he became in a very short time. Celebrities rent our house during off hours and use it as a bed and breakfast. Our backyard has become a hot spot wedding location. Granddad would have hated it. He was a private man who wouldn’t have wanted strangers running around his house, touching his things.
Grandma Marguerite thinks all of this is a great way to celebrate Granddad. She told me to play ball, so I play ball. Claude uses me as his companion to accompany him to fundraising events. I know when to laugh at his stupid ass jokes, when to smile at guests and when to excuse myself so the adults can discuss adult business. Claude and I really know how to work a room. He says I’m his lucky charm, his ace in the hole. He says that as long as I’m around, nothing is impossible for him. That was very flattering for a while. He’s the closest thing I have to a father figure, and my options are limited.
Claude took some wine courses to become a sommelier a while back. Just to let everyone know how cultured he is, probably. There is no telling which bottle it was, but he crawled inside one and has yet to come out. Ever since he became a certified wino, his behavior has become increasingly disturbing. I confronted him about being such a cheesy snob (he insisted on a Ralph Lauren Christmas one year, in which all our decor had to be only from that designer). Claude didn’t appreciate my honesty and we started not getting along so hot. Then, when he started drinking not just wine but all things alcohol, things went from bad to worse.
Grandma Marguerite used to keep Claude at bay, but now he just walks all over her. Dante told me that Grandma is getting rather old and doesn’t have the same kind of joie de vivre that she used to have. I know Dante well enough to understand that he’s gently implying that senility is setting in. So you see, I have absolutely nowhere else to go.                  
There’s a good person deep inside of Claude. But he’s very sad, as I’m very sad. We are both very sad. We’re mourning the situation in our own ways. I “love” Claude or whatever, but I don’t like him when he drinks. He drinks all the time, so there you go.
There’s no one to talk to, and I’m scared to be writing all this stuff down but will explode without some kind of release. All the people who work for us act totally weird now. They’re scared of Claude. He’s paying their salaries so they walk on eggshells all the time.
Only my tutor, Dr. Jonas, knows what’s going on. He noticed a cut on my wrist and knew it wasn’t really an accident. He said that life can be amazing, so there’s no reason to check out early. He said to study hard and to get good grades on the entrance exams for college. He said college would launch me to liberty. Then he got a small book out of his briefcase and handed it to me. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” He said it would give some illumination to these dark days. The writing certainly made an impression. Here’s what I mainly got out of it:

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. . . . What I must do is all that concerns me, not what people think. . . . The reliance on property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. . . . Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

What does all this really mean? It means that we came into this world alone, and we will go out alone. You can’t put your faith in anyone. You’re better off doing everything alone because you can’t count on anyone except yourself. You’re a sailor out at sea, alone on the ocean. Your decisions symbolize the course you charter. Your thoughts steer the movements of your boat through life. Are you going to pave the way yourself or listen to others? If the people who you listen to are wrong, you’ll hate them for steering you badly. If you are internally guided, you will have made your own decisions—and will have no one else to blame. So, pick your poison and live with the consequences. 
Want to read more? Pick up a copy of Gumbeaux, available now from Amazon and Amazon UK

Nearly driven to homicide by an alcoholic caretaker, a sheltered, rebellious young heiress disappears into New Orleans to heal in peace from the death of her parents. In moving from Washington, D.C. to Louisiana, she experiences culture shock and freedom for the first time. 

The title refers to a Cajun restaurant where she takes a job as a waitress. There she engages in many misadventures with often hilarious results. Years later, she is haunted by the conviction that she may have left part of her soul behind in the deep south, and must face her dark, reckless past in order to win it back.