TAPS by Willie Morris


Age Range: 1934 - 1999
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A lush, lazy tale of growing up in Mississippi during the Korean War, by the late author (1934–1999) of My Cat Spit McGee (1999), etc.

As the story begins, 16-year-old Swayze Barksdale of Fisk's Landing is recruited by his mentor, WWII veteran Luke Cartwright, to play taps at the funerals of local boys killed in Korea. Each ceremony calls up a world of memory, and the dead men's stories are laced through a larger storyline concerning Swayze's friends, Arch and Georgia, and their adventures about town. Arch, Swayze's companion trumpeter for the funeral services, is a surly, James Dean sort of charmer with an independent streak and a way with his horn that outshines Swayze's modest bellowing. Georgia, a friend since childhood, grows to be a gentle beauty and introduces Swayze to the ways of love, sex, and jealousy. When one of the town notables, Durley Godbold, is reported missing in action and presumed dead, his wife Amanda goes into a life-transforming shock that moves Swayze toward the deeper recesses of grief, and as the funerals grow in number and the losses accumulate, the boy's understanding of the world broadens. His curiosity takes him to the embalming room at the funeral home, where he sees "what had been a face [now] collapsed, like sponge, with hideous liquid eyes." At the close, Durley returns from a POW camp; Amanda finds their marriage irrecoverable; Swayze and Georgia go their own ways; and Luke meets a tragic end. Like such previous Morris works as North Toward Home (1967), the novel contains many fondly elegiac passages and dozens of charming descriptions of small-town life, but it lacks a substantiating depth that might have truly conveyed Swayze's metamorphosis. Instead, it reads very much like the recapitulations of a mature adult amused to find there was a time when he didn't know so much.

A loving evocation of a bygone age, in a story that most likely provided more joy to Morris than it will to readers.

Pub Date: April 16th, 2001
ISBN: 0-618-09859-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2001


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