MORRIS' LAST NOVEL:
CITY, Miss. Quote
a poem by W. B. Yeats to an Irishman, it is said, and youll
get a tear every time. Willie Morris, the novelist and journalist,
has a similar effect on his fans in Mississippi. Morris honed a razor-sharp
connection to his past and wouldnt let go, even in death.
My Dog Skip (Random House, 1995), is far more touching
in print than on the screen. North Toward Home (Houghton
Mifflin), Morris autobiographical classic, has become a travel
guide for those separated from home and place by even such enviable
things as attending college in another state.
Willie Morris died in Jackson, Miss. at age 64, but true to his calling
left us with one last masterpiece. Taps is a posthumous
novel published last month by Houghton Mifflin, and those close to
Morris, including his widow, JoAnne (who is traveling on a promotional
tour to speak about her husband and his final book), say that it was
a work spanning his adult life. The wonder isnt that Morris accomplished
this undertaking, beginning with his completion of college at Oxford
(where he attended as a Rhodes Scholar), but that he ever found the
Taps is remarkable for many reasons. Like other Morris works,
the author and his memories are on every page. Specifically, the young
Willie Morris not only had a now-famous dog and played little league
baseball, but he played a trumpet as well. In his novel, we revisit
a young boy playing taps on his precious brass instrument at the funerals
honoring the sons of his community who were killed in the Korean War.
Taps sticks with you, and be forewarned that its hard
to put down. Sure, there are gut-wrenching passages side-by-side with
funny stories told whimsically and honestly through a childs
innocent memory. But, there is an overriding sadness too, that goes
beyond the book's content.
Its the realization that we, who learned about ourselves through
Willie Morris, and how profoundly we were affected by events long ago
when life was simpler, have nothing else from him to look forward to
in years to come. Such sadness calls for a glass of George Dickel.