cover image A Miracle of Catfish

A Miracle of Catfish

Larry Brown, . . Algonquin, $26.95 (455pp) ISBN 978-1-56512-536-0

This sprawling novel was unfinished when Mississippi writer Brown (Dirty Work , etc.) died at 53 in 2004. (It remains so, according to a note from editor Shannon Ravenel, who includes Brown's own notes for how the novel would end.) Cortez Sharp, a widower in his later years, decides to build a catfish pond on his Mississippi acreage, mostly because the pond will serve (he imagines drily and obliquely) to bring others around and assuage his dark loneliness. Nearby live young Jimmy and his ne'er-do-well father ("Jimmy's daddy"). There's also Lucinda, who is Cortez's daughter and the mother of Albert, a young man with Tourette's syndrome who speaks in rhyming obscenities. Lucinda pops tranquilizers and has a talent for getting into odd squabbles (over the quality of pigs' feet in a supermarket, for one). Elsewhere, Cleve, an African-American ex-con, kills a soldier who is the object of his daughter's affections and hides the body in the woods. Despite the cuts that Ravenel says were made (marked in the text with ellipses), there's a lot of superfluously detailed family history, interior monologue and Dixie atmospherics. Would-be boffo sequences (Cortez driving a tractor into the pond; Jimmy becoming inconsolable when his father sells his beloved Go Kart), are not sharp enough to carry one through. (May)