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The Sharpshooter Blues by Lewis Nordan

The Sharpshooter Blues

by Lewis Nordan

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Oh boy, am I glad I heard about Lewis Nordan. The Sharpshooter Blues is the rare story that’s humorous, profound, tragic, and beautiful - all at the same time, often in the same sentence.

Arrow Catcher, a town on the Mississippi Delta, has a wonderful assortment of residents: Hydro Raney, with his enlarged head and diminished intelligence, who lives with his refrigerator-shooting father in a fishing camp; Marshal Webber Chisholm, the gentle-giant of a lawman; the theater and show business-loving undertaker known only as The Prince of Darkness – who stays pretty busy; and Morgan the teenage trick-shot sharpshooter – back from Texas for a visit. They all inhabit the same space and know how to laugh, despite tragedy.

There’s also 200 quail-egg omelet shared by gay lovers in a sweltering Airstream trailer on the morning of a funeral.

Nordan creates all characters equally. Men, women, children, black, white, dead, alive – they all rise up in love and feed the beautiful madness in Arrow Catcher, and in this story. ( )
1 vote Hagelstein | Dec 3, 2010 |
Heartbreaking story of a boy with encephalus (sp?) who is victimized by and then kills two "lovely children" who aren't so lovely. ( )
  patience_crabstick | Oct 11, 2008 |
Lewis Nordan is America's undiscovered literary gem. His novels, abounding with eccentric characters and gut-clutching humor, rival (and at times, surpass) the best works from Southern prose masters like Flannery O'Connor, T.R. Pearson and Clyde Edgerton.

Nordan writes of a mythic, hilarious world of swamp elves, singing llamas and the world's only high school where students can letter in the varsity sport of arrow-catching. As the Associated Press once wrote: "It's as if the worlds of William Faulkner and James Thurber had collided."

Like Faulkner, Nordan has staked out his own unforgettable patch of ground in the South. Most of his novels and short stories are set in the Mississippi Delta town of Arrow Catcher. Once you've read a few of Nordan's books (start with the collection "The All-Girl Football Team" then move on to "Welcome to the Arrow-Catcher Fair" and the novels "Wolf Whistle" and "Lightning Song" [see my other epinion for more on that one]), you'll want to come back for a visit at least twice a year. For me, Lewis Nordan cannot write books fast enough.

It's impossible to choose which is his "best" work, but certainly one that lingers in the mind long after the last page is the 1995 novel "The Sharpshooter Blues." Nordan once again to returns to Arrow Catcher, Mississippi, to tell the sweet, funny story of Hydro Raney, a 20-year-old hydrocephalic who lives with his father on an island in the Mississippi Delta. Mr. Raney runs a fishcamp and as he and his son patrol the bayou waters, they are surrounded by porpoises, parrots and monkeys. It's an otherworldly paradise that helps Hydro take his mind off the fact that he's never known his mother and that he's got an oversized head. To comfort him even more, his Daddy sings blues ballads like "Let These Red Lips Kiss Your Blues Away" and "Blue Moon Over Kentucky." There have been few father-son relationships in literature as tender as the one Nordan describes here (which is pretty amazing since Nordan's own father died when he was just a young boy).

When he's not helping his father at the fishcamp, Hydro sweeps floors and pumps gas down at the William Tell Grocery Store. It's one of those rural country stores where locals gather to swap stories, hear sexual confessionals and go out back to shoot watermelons with a six-shooter. Here, in true William Tell fashion, they take turns shooting cantaloupes off Hydro's oversized head. Down in Arrow Catcher, guns are as revered as hound dogs and Moon Pies. Everybody's got one and everybody's always looking for a good reason to pull the trigger--some folks shoot refrigerators and some shoot overripe fruit. As Nordan writes, "Sometimes there was just nothing as satisfying as shooting a gun inside a house...It relieved stress. It cemented relationships, strangers or partners in marriage. It helped most anybody, the least of these my brethren, as Preacher Roe might say. It cleared the air."

One fateful night, a grease-haired boy in a zoot suit and his girlfriend show up at the gas station after it is closed. Hydro and his best friend, the comic-book loving Louis, are the only ones there. When the young couple, a Bonnie-and-Clyde-type duo, try to rob the store, bullets fly and tragedy comes to Arrow Catcher.

"The Sharpshooter Blues" is a wonderful mix of humor and heartbreak that begs to be re-read at least once a year. In its pages, you'll find not only wild characters and the funniest writing being published today, but also heart-breaking sweetness.

There are plenty of eccentric characters (like the town's undertaker who is named the Prince of Darkness) to keep you chuckling for hours. But there's also sections of the novel that will take your breath away with their dramatic power. Here's Louis' mother, an alcoholic who begins to awaken out of her boozy catatonia halfway through the novel:

"(There was) real danger, life and death dangers, the kind that happen quickly and are no one's fault, or maybe they are. A small quirk, a twist at birth, or before birth, and then so fast you didn't even know what was happening, hydrocephalus, maybe, or mental illness, or suicide--even that might be genetic, or congenital, or caused by an unkind word at just the wrong moment, or both, or all these, or worse. You could lose everything, just as easily as that, before you even had it, or had anything, it could all be gone. For no good reason, you could, in one second, become a laughable figure, a cartoon character to the rest of the world, abandoned to a life of loneliness and oddity in the flicker of an eyelash. You could become pathetic. You could suddenly become a parent whose child died. Whose child committed suicide. You never knew. There was too much danger in the world to predict it all."

If you've never read Lewis Nordan, I pity you--you don't know what you're missing. If you already own all of his works (as I do), then I encourage you to pay another visit to Arrow Catcher and rediscover why Nordan is the best living Southern writer. ( )
1 vote davidabrams | Jun 8, 2006 |
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Two youths walk into a store in Arrow Catcher, Mississippi, and are shot. Murder, self-defense or accident? Marshall Chisolm's probe turns into an examination of the violence and loss which result when guns come out to play in a small town. By the author of Wolf Whistle.… (more)

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