Megan Harlan
May 24, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sugar Among the Freaks

Current Status
In Season
Lewis Nordan
Short Stories, Fiction

We gave it an A-

Though Mississippi native Lewis Nordan writes about small-town life in the swampy Delta with a wildly original, almost hallucinatory flair (”…we lived, all of us, in a terrible circus geography where freaks grow like magic from the buckshot and gumbo…”), his real trademark is his compassionate evocation of tragic events — while being as funny a fiction writer as there is today. The 15 stories in Sugar Among the Freaks — originally published in the ’80s in two now out-of-print books — wonderfully foreshadow subsequent, acclaimed novels like The Sharpshooter Blues. The title character, Sugar, appears in the five strongest pieces. In one, he considers shooting his glamorous alcoholic father; in another, the two attend a traveling freak show that excites the man more than the boy. Earlier, more awkward pieces use everything from pet rats to Sears, Roebuck catalog models as grist for imaginative tales of family discord. And just when you think Nordan’s characters are the last word in comical redneck stereotypes, buffoonery gives way to startling emotional expression. A-

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