cover image Lightning Song

Lightning Song

Lewis Nordan. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $18.95 (280pp) ISBN 978-1-56512-084-6

Exaggeration and melodrama are the hallmarks of Nordan's fiction. They have helped build his cult following (celebrated by the creation of a Lewis Nordan Fan Club in conjunction with the publication of this novel), but they are underscored by a wise and sad view of human nature. Although Nordan takes leave here of the mythical town of Arrow Catcher (the setting for Music of the Swamp, Wolf Whistle and The Sharpshooter Blues), the narrative carries his motif of pathetically hopeful denizens playing out a doomed existence in the surreal Mississippi delta landscape. The most exciting thing in uncomfortably pubescent Leroy Dearman's life is the strange phenomenon wherein the family home manifests an eerie affinity for lightning. Leroy's bucolic existence on his family's llama farm is disrupted by the arrival of Harris, the debonair but free-loading brother of Leroy's one-armed father, Swami Don. Soon, Leroy's clandestine perusal of Harris's girlie magazines signals his hormonal awakening and engenders a maelstrom of confusing feelings. Then his mother's blatant attraction to Harris portends impending disaster. Robbed of a hero figure by his feckless father's indifference to his wife's infidelity and his tawdry affair with an Indian factory girl, Leroy is ill prepared for sexual initiation by a buxom baton-twirling instructor. A chimerical subplot involving an oddball neighbor couple is superfluous, and all that has passed is rendered trivial when Leroy survives being struck by lightning. Nordan's meandering plot is balanced by the rich cadences of his prose, however, and by the powerful moment of revelation in which Leroy's ""dark history was suddenly bathed in light'' and he embodies his family's frustration and pain. First serial to Harper's and the Oxford American; author tour. (May)