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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 06, 1995|ERIKA TAYLOR

WOLF WHISTLE by Lewis Nordan. (Algonquin Books: $16.95; 290 pp.) Based extremely loosely on the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a black boy who whistled at a white woman, Lewis Nordan's novel, "Wolf Whistle" contains its own wild, sad and ultimately redemptive truth.

Alice Conroy teaches fourth grade in Arrow Catcher, Mississippi, a small town where the only hotel has no desk clerk " . . . so you just went in, left your two dollars under a shot glass near the register-book, and found yourself a place to flop." Alice takes her children on rather unusual field trips; a sewage plant, a funeral parlor, the bedside of a horribly burned classmate, and, finally, the murder trial of Solon Gregg and Lord Montberclair, the two white men who killed Bobo, a teen-ager who wolf whistled at Lord Montberclair's wife.

One of the amazing qualities of Nordan's writing is that it is impossible not to feel pain for everyone in Arrow Catcher, even the murderers, the buzzards, and the dead Civil War soldiers whose ". . . finger joint[s] still turned up from time to time in the muddy streets after a hard rain." "Wolf Whistle" is an ambitious novel. The truth here is poetic rather than factual, which gives the whole book a peculiar and oddly beautiful shine. When a small miracle occurs during the murder trial, the event takes on the weight of myth, yet Nordan's flawless eye for detail keeps us grounded in the physical world. "Wolf Whistle" is a book that repeatedly tears back layers of brutality, grief and loss to reach the secret, vulnerable core inside of all of us.

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