In only the first of many profoundly self-destructive acts in his memoir Boy with Loaded Gun, Lewis "Buddy" Nordan dons a Superman cape, shrieks in excitement at the arrival of his family's new TV, and leaps off his porch as if to fly. A few seconds later, his forehead strikes the concrete, Buddy is laid out cold, and a number of all-too-enduring patterns have taken root, including a lifelong fascination with power and fathers and flight. To Nordan's credit, he doesn't knock you over the head with the metaphorical implications of this or any of the other escapades that follow. Instead, he lets one improbably cinematic vignette build on another: the time he met his alcoholic father's midget ex-girlfriend; the time he ran away to New York and was rescued from his own drunkenness by a suspiciously short elevator operator; the time he mail-ordered a gun. ("Eventually I tried to kill my father, of course.") With a life like this, how is it that Nordan has never written a memoir before? The curious recurrence of midgets alone would have been too much temptation for many a lesser talent.
One of the book's most acute pleasures is Nordan's account of his childhood in the wonderfully named Itta Bena, Mississippi. (The Chickasaw words--reputed by local legend to mean "Home in the Woods"--actually mean "to build a house of crossed logs.") Growing up in Itta Bena, of course, is all about getting out of Itta Bena, but once Nordan does, things go downhill fast. In the typically sordid progression of alcohol and infidelity that follows, we miss, as readers, Itta Bena's certainties: they are comfortable, especially to rebel against, and Nordan's account of them is like a well-crafted coming-of-age novel. In contrast, the myriad ambiguities of grown-up life seem less grand, even less true, than fiction. Still, who else has ever attained understanding by confronting his "inner midget"? The general outlines of Nordan's ascent from hell may be familiar--the church basements, what he calls his "Don't Drink meetings"--but the particulars never are (cf. the chapter titled "The Amazing Technicolor Effing Machine"). Nordan is an original, a storyteller of great and unusual gifts, and in Boy with Loaded Gun, readers reap the fruits of both his present happiness and his past unhappiness. --Mary Park [via]