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Wolf Whistle


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About the Author

Lewis Nordan was a professor of creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh for many years and the author of seven books of fiction and a memoir. His awards include three American Library Association Notable Book citations, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for fiction, the Mississippi Authors Award for fiction, and the Southern Book Critics Award for fiction. He died in 2012.


The wolf whistle of the title comes from Bobo, a black teenager from Chicago visiting in Arrow Catcher, Mississippi. Directed at the wife of the town's most prominent white resident, this whistle soon leads to Bobo's murder. Based on the Emmett Till lynching, which occurred near Nordan's hometown in 1955, this flamboyant novel by the author of Welcome to the Arrow-Catcher Fair ( LJ 9/15/83) examines the intertwined fates of blacks and poor whites in the Mississippi delta. Like a blues song by Robert Johnson, to whom Nordan frequently alludes, the text depicts loneliness, alcoholism, unrequited love, and brutal violence but elevates it all to a higher (and sometimes highly comic) aesthetic plane. Nordan displays some of Faulkner's lyricism and Flannery O'Connor's surreal humor but emerges as a unique and powerful Southern storyteller in his own right.-- Albert E. Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville

Though he writes Southern gothic novels that invite comparison to the works of T. R. Pearson, James Wilcox and Clyde Edgerton, Nordan creates a distinctively weird and fanciful world of his own, peopled by impoverished, eccentric and grotesque characters. The setting for his fourth novel (after Music in the Swamp ) is Arrow Catcher, Miss., a Delta town where magic can emerge from squalor and prejudice can be transcended by youthful idealism. Against this background, Nordan tells an alternative version of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, the teenager visiting from Chicago who transgressed Deep South taboos by whistling at a white woman. Here Till is called Bobo, and like all the characters--white-trash rednecks and blacks alike--he is portrayed as essentially uneducated, speaking a highly ungrammatical vernacular, and condemned to a life circumscribed by rabid racism. In reproducing the speech and behavior of his humble characters, Nordan does not condescend; he faithfully renders the narrow, wretched lives of Delta inhabitants, particularly the oppressed black people, and the hopelessness of their lot. (Emmett/Bobo's murderers go free.) Propelled by Nordan's musical prose, much of this narrative soars above the commonplace into the realm of myth. Sometimes, however, Nordan is betrayed by his own rhetoric and by a compulsion to wax rhapsodic. In striving for an apocalyptic vision, he overreaches his ability to hold readers inside his bizarre alternate world. Nonetheless, this is an unforgettable story by a writer of great talent. (Oct.)

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