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Jean Bingham if started [North Toward Home] as a novel….and I got into it oh, I guess, seventy or eighty pages, something like that, but a lot of hard work and really thinking hard about itand I real ized that I was writing an intensely autobiographical novel. I didn’t like too much what I was writing and I finally decided just to go ahead and try to tell the story of my life. I decided to use real places and real names and everything else and risk what I knew would be inevitable, what was going to happenthat a lot of people would say that here is this egocentric thirty-one-year-old writing the story of his life. Who in hell does he think he is? But I made that decision and it was the most basic decision of all and I’m glad I did it. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again because I have a feeling that autobiographical work like this is either for very young men or very old men. I may be wrong: I may change my mind. I’m going to write a novel in the next two or three years. North Toward Home has its autobiographical formand I’m speaking from experiencethe autobiographical form has its limits but it also has its strengths. Its limits are that you don’t have the emotional freedom to go all the way. At least I didn’t feel like I did. Its strengths are that you can root around for things that actually happened and you have considerable latitude in a rather tangible way. You don’t have to tell the complete truth. It’s like what Mark Twain said, sometimes in writing work like Roughing It and Life on the Mississippi [1883], occasionally one has to lie to tell the truth:’ Interview by Robert H. Moore, Mississippi Review, Conversations with Willie Morris, edited by Jack Bales \(University Press of Potter and Godbold and all the others.” Though he mingles with the flatland aristocracy, Swayze grows up shabby genteel, with a lingering sense of unworthiness yet with a tacit understanding that his privileges exceed those of the blacks clustered in the boisterous neighborhood called “the Quarters.” Fisk’s Landing in 1951 is a segregated world, though the cosmos mocks the community’s racial categories: “We lived and died by nature, Anglos and Africans bound together in the whims of the timeless clouds.” Presided over by a Jew, three-term Mayor Isaac J. Fink, the town is an ethnic amalgam that includes Italians, Greeks, Poles, Germans, and Lebanese, but apparently no Latinos; the term “Anglo,” meaning non-Hispanic, seems a misnomer appropriated from Texas and a later era. The story of how “Our people played seven-card stud against God,” Taps reveals its hand slowly, through leisurely recollections of basketball games, spelling bees, and English classes.What binds it all together are the dire occasions spread throughout the year when. Swayze is called upon to go to the cemetery and play his trumpet. What gives it all drama is the unstable romantic triangle that Luke Cartwright forms with beautiful, talented Amanda Pettibone and Leroy Godbold, her rich, arrogant, and violent husband. Swayze becomes go-between, witness, and chorus in a tragedy he is powerless to avert. Morris, the God of Fisk’s Landing, if not Yazoo City, has stacked his poker deck. He writes in gorgeously redolent sentences that seem to grow directly out of the lush Delta landscape they evoke. Sometimes, as when he describes the ecstasy of first sex \(“the glowing, pilcolored purple, but it never lacks the same awe over the power and pathos of words that Swayze, listening to the funereal weeping as to “the murmur of mourning doves at dusk, or the breathless flow of water in a summer’s stream,” brings to the music he releases from his trumpet. Like his narrator, Morris is occasionally unsteady at high F, but Taps, the elegy he was rehearsing throughout his writing life, proves he knew how to sing. Steven G. Kellman is professor of comparative literature at The University of Texas at San Antonio and the author, most recently of The Translingual Imagination. 3/30/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21