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A Review of Boy With Loaded Gun

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If these tales were fiction, they'd be received in the vein of the rest of Lewis Nordan's work -- as wild black comedy with a perverse but profoundly moral center. But the tales in Boy With Loaded Gun are hilariously and gut-wrenchingly true, and together they provide a portrait of the artist as an over-imaginative boy, an inept husband, a drunk, a seeker, a ruined father, and, finally, a writer bent on redemption through his work.

Readers not familiar with Nordan's widely acclaimed seven novels would be well advised to read the memoir as an introduction to the author and use it as a jumping-off point from which to explore his dusty South, especially the tiny town of Itta Bena, Mississippi, "Home in the Woods," where the bulk of his fiction is set. Nordan's dry, outrageous sense of humor, applied to the sometimes farcical, sometimes sorrowful and calamitous events of his life, make for compelling storytelling and often breathtaking reading.

A few of the book's gems include: the story of Nordan's addiction to mail order as a child, and how he eventually bought a gun by mail and tried to shoot his daddy with it; "A Body in the River," a touching, roundabout remembrance of the drowning of young Emmett Till in 1955, a racist murder that became the basis of Nordan's best-known book, Wolf Whistle, many years later; the story of 15-year-old Lewis, saving his nickels and jumping on the Greyhound bus for New York City, to catch a glimpse of a beatnik in the 1950s; the mournful tale of the author's decline into homelessness following the end of his marriage, and the subsequent loss of his son.

Nordan's peculiar gift is that in refusing to bow to any sacred cows, he sees the godliness in the most mundane events and circumstances. This is rich stuff. Read it and laugh; read it and weep.

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