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March 20, 2007
A Miracle of Catfishby Scott
The late Larry Brown's A Miracle of Catfish was released yesterday. This novel was nearing completion at the time of Brown's sudden death in November of 2004. Brown's widow and literary executors asked Shannon Ravenel to edit this last work by the man she was largely responsible for discovering.
A Miracle of Catfish is intriguing on several levels. First, there's a letter to the reader from Richard Howorth. He's now the mayor of Oxford, MS but he first made Brown's acquaintance as the owner of Square Books. At thirty years of age, Brown decided he wanted to be a writer. Howorth made reading recommendations to the fireman-aspiring-author. Their relationship solidified to the extent that Brown dedicated his magnificent short story, Facing the Music, to Howorth. In this letter, Howorth notes "there is no doubting the mastery of what is here--the precise, descriptive language, terse sentences, mischievous sense of humor, a nearness to the natural world, characters drawn with utter honesty and compassion--all the hallmarks of Larry Brown's work."
Second, the book contains a tribute by Barry Hannah, entitled Passion to Brilliance. In the essay, Hannah admits that since Brown's passing, "I don't write as well and I write more slowly. Such is his absence, but Brown would want us to crawl past this mood. He did, hundreds of times."
Third, there is a Editor's Note by Shannon Ravenel. She explains the daunting task of editing a posthumous manuscript and the pains she took to be respectful. The text also contains Brown's notes on how he intended to finish the book.
And of course, blessedly, thankfully, there is the novel itself. It's not flawless, as it was a work in progress. But it is one last chance to visit the Mississippi backroads that Brown described so beautifully. It's one last chance to visit his characters. And it's one last chance to visit with him, in a way. And that's something for literature afficinados to be grateful for.
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