cover image Boy with Loaded Gun: A Memoir

Boy with Loaded Gun: A Memoir

Lewis Nordan. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $23.95 (290pp) ISBN 978-1-56512-199-7

Nordan, a novelist (Wolf Whistle; Lightning Song) who savors the darkly comic possibilities of human folly, chronicles his own bad behavior in this rueful, notably candid memoir of an ""odd child"" who grows into a wayward adult. Grief, loss and dislocation are his earliest memories: when Nordan is 18 months old, his father dies and his mother moves them to tiny Itta Bena, Miss. After she remarries, Nordan longs for his lost father while gradually accepting his new one, a distant but loving alcoholic housepainter. Television introduces a wider world beyond the delta, which young ""Buddy"" begins contacting via mail-order. He buys a pistol through a magazine ad and tries to shoot his stepfather. Fortunately, the gun misfires, but the pattern is set: throughout life, Nordan will yearn for what's lost, reject what love he has and generally act like a destructive, self-centered jerk. His misadventures stem from bad judgment (to impress a woman, he puts his infant son on a neighbor's horse; the boy survives the incident, but the horse doesn't) and genuine tragedy (his second son dies hours after birth; his first son commits suicide while in college). Alcoholism, infidelity and an implausible knack for attracting weirdos are described with a bracing mix of forthrightness and novelistic exaggeration. Nordan's characteristic wit crops up, though the effect is more stinging (and the prose more subdued) than the redemptive humor of his acrobatically lyrical fiction. ""The self-blame book is not the book I want to write, and not the one I suspect anyone wants to read,"" he contends. Not to worry: Nordan avoids self-flagellation and solipsism, fashioning instead a memoir that achieves hard-won introspection and strikes a tone of weary sadness and wonderment that Buddy turned out okay after all. (Jan.)