WILLIE MORRIS' LAST NOVEL:
A REMEMBRANCE

by Doc Lawrence

YAZOO CITY, Miss. Quote a poem by W. B. Yeats to an Irishman, it is said, and you’ll 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 wouldn’t 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 isn’t 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 time.

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 it’s hard to put down. Sure, there are gut-wrenching passages side-by-side with funny stories told whimsically and honestly through a child’s innocent memory. But, there is an overriding sadness too, that goes beyond the book's content.

It’s 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.

 


Read some of Doc's other reviews:

Rick Bragg's "Ava's Man"

"Ignatius Rising" - biography of John Kennedy Toole, who wrote the classic
"A Confederacy of Dunces"

Andrea Immer - "Great Wine Made Simple"

"An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government"
- William D. Davis

 

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