Following Bebe Moore Campbell's Your Blues Ain't Like Mine (1992), here's another (and far superior) first novel based on the 1955 Mississippi lynching of the teenager Emmett Till. Nordan, a white Mississippian, has set Till's murder in the freaky fictional world he's created in three story collections (Music of the Swamp, 1991, etc.). Most of Nordan's cast live in Balance Due, ``the white-trash ghetto'' in the town of Arrow Catcher. Foremost among them is Alice Conroy, the young, idealistic, disappointed-in-love fourth-grade teacher who will emerge as the conscience of the white community. Alice is keeping house for Uncle Runt, the town drunk and gravedigger, whose wife has just left him. Close by is robber and wife-beater Solon Gregg: Solon's son tried to set his daddy on fire but burnt himself to a crisp instead. All of these people are shockingly alone, watched over by buzzards ancient enough to have feasted on the Confederate dead. Into this world of lost souls, forever surprised by their thoughts and actions, comes Bobo (Till's actual nickname), down south from Chicago to spend the summer with Uncle and Auntee. For whistling at a white woman, ``a normal and decent testing of adolescent limits in a hopeful world,'' Bobo is murdered by the wretched Solon, an onlooker and hired gun for the woman's husband, a Delta grandee. Alice has had a vision of a dead child in the river but, recognizing ``the futility of magic,'' gone back to sleep. More tragically, Uncle and Auntee recognize even their stouthearted love cannot protect Bobo from the white man's mischief, though Uncle will courageously identify Solon at the trial, which is disrupted by Uncle Runt's African parrot (more futile magic). By showing Till's murder through the scrim of magic realism, Nordan, without blinking at the horror, has allowed his benighted characters a glimpse of transcendence. The result is a high-wire act--of surprising tenderness--that can only enhance Nordan's reputation.