After a day in Itta Bena, Mississippi, we were no closer to finding Lewis Nordan. No one we’d met actually knew him or his work, or even cared much to hear about it. Using the books as maps led to contradictions and dead ends; names of recognizable sites shift across his stories and novels. Even in his memoir, Nordan changes names and flat out invents things.
Thunder rattles the windows, and Lucy wakes from a restless sleep, thinking of her husband. Five days ago she gave birth in the squash patch, but for now she ignores everything else, preferring the satisfaction of old memories knocking against one another. Let the baby wait. Everyone on the other side of that bedroom door can just wait.
A self-mythologizing takes place when we assimilate the stories of our ancestors into our own—it’s automatic. We tell ourselves that their triumphs have somehow entered our bloodstream. We’re not descendants, we think; we’re heirs—heirs to intangible qualities (ambition, brilliance, endurance) through the fact of a thoroughly diluted blood tie.
For three over-warm days in late May, Allan Gurganus welcomed me to his home to hold forth on his life and art, and on the imminent publication of Local Souls, about the invented town of Falls, North Carolina, population 6,803. An ordinary place of extraordinary people, Falls appears in nearly all of Gurganus’s fiction—“an inexhaustible resource,” he calls it, a town he knows with such kissing intimacy he can amble in it block by block and tell you how many cracks the sidewalks have.
Mother’s move to New York was just the latest of several problems I had that summer. By then there were Rebecca’s parrots, the Appropriate Behavior Rubrics at work, the increasing hostility of my downstairs neighbor, and the small, strange problem of Maurice.
From the summer fiction issue.
At half past ten the guy from the corner mart came into the shelter. Naomi had only seen him a few times, but he had a distinctive look, to say the least. He was young but rugged, with short-cropped hair and broad shoulders. It figured that the most attractive man in town her age was also a triple amputee.
I’m hunting the bones of the outlaw Leslie Cox. For a long time rumor was that Cox, a surly, dark-haired drifter from up around Fort White, Florida, was hiding out here in the Ten Thousand Islands, prowling its knotted creeks and salt marsh bogs, and just might turn up on your porch one evening to settle old scores. “Unless Watson killed him, which nobody believed, Cox was still there,” Peter Matthiessen writes in Shadow Country, his fictional re-jiggering of this region’s most hard-dying legend. Of course we’re talking ages ago. Cox, even if he did live out his life in this wilderness, is long gone now.