A LIFE by Wright Morris


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In Fire Sermon (1971) 83-year-old Warner -- after the immolation of his sister Viola's house following her death, and after his eleven-year-old charge is taken off by two alien hippies -- circles away like a wounded hawk; this book follows the long dying. As he drives from Nebraska and Viola's grave in his ancient Maxwell, sometimes sleeping at the wheel, the past acquires a new coherence and reality ""like wallpaper he had lived with, soiled with his habits, but never really looked at."" As for the present, things that happen -- a prayer circle of old ladies, the rescue of a kitten from the filth of a privy, the discovery of a young man's old grave, and above all meeting the sinister Indian Blackbird -- all seem to be just points on a line leading to where he was, nowhere else. The past of his locked-in life tosses up memories of dust and land and howling winds, some good women and even the boy he lost to the hippies -- who held him off for a while from a really dead end. At the close he dies quietly and ceremonially, at the hands of Blackbird, a bitter product of Vietnam and a now arid heritage. But the feverish mind of the old man recognizes a life as isolated, and bleakly independent as his own. Again Wright Morris' unique talent produces a mix of didactic symbolism, cranky intensity and scenes of such mastery -- (particularly the lunch counter entrance of Blackbird) that it is obvious why his works evade classification and assimilation into the critical mainstream. For those ornery and equally unassimilated Morris readers, more of the arresting same.

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 1973
ISBN: 0803281064
Publisher: Harper & Row