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Wolf Whistleby Lewis Nordan
Winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for fiction
An ALA Notable Book
Synopses & Reviews
Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, novelist Lewis Nordan was fifteen years old the summer two white men from the next town were tried for the murder of a black boy who wolf-whistled at a white woman. The boy's name was Emmett Till and the year his murderers were tried (and acquitted) was 1955.
In the thirty-eight years since, that white adolescent's impressions of what happened in Money, Mississippi, have been turned over in Nordan's mind and memory. In the turning, those impressions have gathered the odd outgrowths and distortions of this writer's truly wild imagination. The outlines of real events have been subsumed into entirely new and different shapes. The result is Wolf Whistle, a novel starring a Mississippi white-trash girl named Alice who understands — in her heart — the meaning of evil.
Alice is the fourth-grade teacher at the Arrow Catcher Elementary School and she yearns to teach her pupils things worth learning. She believes the best way to do it is with field trips. The first trip of the 1955 school year is to the bedside of the fourth-grader's terminally burned classmate, Glenn Gregg. (Glenn got in the way of a gasoline fire he set to burn up his despicable daddy.) The final trip is to be to the courthouse where Alice and her fourth grade class attend the murder trial of Glenn Gregg's despicable daddy, Solon, and his employer, Lord Montberclair, whose wife's beauty is what inspired a black teenager's reckless compliment ("Hubba, hubba").
In between those two educational forays, Nordan takes the reader on a field trip of his own — along the crooked paths of righteous racism and violence that lead to the courthouse gallery where the reader joins Alice and her fourth graders to witness the 1950s American Southern ethic at work. Soft heart turned "bleeding heart," it is Alice in whom the germ of guilt recognition grows, matures, and bears fruit to pass on to future generations of white southerners. It is inside Alice's brilliant heart that Lewis Nordan has come of age as a novelist.
"An unforgettable story by a writer of great talent." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"By showing Till's murder through the scrim of magic realism, Nordan...has allowed his benighted characters a glimpse of transcendence. The result is a high-wire act...that can only enhance Nordan's reputation." Kirkus Reviews
"Nordan displays some of Faulkner's lyricism and Flannery O'Connor's surreal humor but emerges as a unique and powerful Southern storyteller in his own right." Library Journal
In 1956, a black boy named Emmett Till was murdered for wolf-whistling at a white woman. The two white men responsible were tried — and acquitted — in a Mississippi town near Lewis Nordan's boyhood home. These events changed him forever. In this extraordinary novel, Nordan transforms one of America's most notorious racial killings into a magical mystery ride of hilarity and horror that you will never forget.
Nordan unleashes the hellhounds of his prodigious imagination on one of the most notorious racial killings of the century — the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black child charged with whistling at a white woman — in a magical mystery tour of the Southern psyche in the mid-1950s.
About the Author
Lewis Nordan was a professor of creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh for many years and the author of seven books of fiction and a memoir. His awards include three American Library Association Notable Book citations, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for fiction, the Mississippi Authors Award for fiction, and the Southern Book Critics Award for fiction. He died in 2012.
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