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Music of the Swamp

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  470 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
Nordan's fiction invents its own world, a world populated by madly heroic misfits. In MUSIC OF THE SWAMP, he focuses his magic and imagination on a single theme--a boy's utterly helpless love for his utterly hopeless father.
Paperback, 224 pages
Published January 9th 1992 by Algonquin Books (first published 1991)
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May 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016

I don't blame my father. What would be the point? There is a sense in which I blame the geography itself, though that, of course, is useless as well.


So much promise, so much innocence, such powerful imagination that transforms the world into a magical realm full of wonder and song. Where does it all go? When does it all turn to dust and ashes? 10 year old Sugar Mecklin wakes every morning in the small town of Arrow Catcher expecting to find mermaids singing to him from the murky waters of the
David Katzman
Aug 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Music of the Swamp is a deeply sad novel. One that explores the terrain of severely dysfunctional families. The story is set in the late 50s or early 60s in a backwoods town in the South. It's essentially a swamp town inhabited by classic white trash families burdened by lack of education, little work, extreme poverty and alcohol and drug addictions. The main story follows a young boy named Sugar Mecklin who both adores and hates his barely coherent alcoholic father.

Nordan is a very strong write
Jul 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-dirty-south
The music of the swamp, and the magic of the swamp, and the utterly helpless love for the utterly hopeless, and the dreams that might prove once and for all to be true. Holy hell, this was good. I’m glad I’ve got more Lewis Nordan here to dive right into.

We were like spoons together. We were like swamp-elves. And in this way we went to sleep, bare-assed children, the two of us, and in my memory not blameworthy for any sin and not even victims of the sins of our sad fathers, but, only that moment
Michael Fischer
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
There are no adequate words to describe this novel's beauty:

"My mother made me a birthday cake in the shape of a rabbit--she had a cake pan molded in that shape--and she decorated it with chocolate icing and stuck on carrot slices for the eyes. It was a difficult cake to make stand up straight, but with various props it would balance on its hind legs on the plate, so that when I came into the room it looked almost real standing there, its little front feet tucked up to its chest.

At the sight o
Jun 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is the book I wish I had written. Magical Realism mixed with a family drama that keeps the reader on their toes. Set in a mythical town in the South, this book is a storyteller's work on a page. There are so many passages that stand alone as moving descriptions or fantasic dialogue. You can go back to any part of this book and read it as a part and it works, but when read as a whole this dark comedy makes me wish I could be Lewis Nordon so that I could say "Yeah, I wrote that".
Henrietta Cottingham
Jan 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
After Wolf Whistle I had to read more... and I binged. Like Raymond Carver of the NW, Lewis Nordan gives the dirty realism of the bayou. The characters are immediate. The atmosphere is palpable to the point of smell. I recommend Wolf Whistle first. Same characters in rotating-revolving situations. Thank you Oxford American magazine for doing an article on this writer who is be a long standing new favorite.
Abeer Hoque
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: i-recommend
I may have read the Music of the Swamp by Lewis Nordan in too close succession to Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane. They are both about sensitive adolescent boys growing up in the country (one American South, one English) and the strange and wild things that happen to them.

"There are worse things than being so lonely you could die."

Neil Gaiman's protagnoist lives more in the fantastical realm, but no less real and beautiful and sensate an environs for it. Mr. Nordan's book is squa
May 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Admittedly, I groaned when I pulled this book from its bag in the Brown Bag reading group that I belong to; the idea is that you're not supposed to look until you get the book home, but we all look at our next book, while waiting for the meeting to start.

Anyway, what I gathered from the back of the book made me decide that, well, I would give it a try; I was thinking maybe the 42-page attempt, if even that. Having given up most southern fiction some years back (although I still look forward to a
Linda Campbell
Aug 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I just read this book the second time (amazing for me to do). I found it at a thrift store about a year ago and just read it a couple of months ago, and then reread last week. It is very Southern, in the best way...weird characters acting very realistically. I am from Memphis originally, and believe I have my own "southern style" of thinking and writing, so these characters are very true in my mind. There's roosters and dead bodies and drunks and figs in syrup and Bessie Smith and much more.
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
A darkly funny novel told in the manner of a memoir. A fantastical telling of a white trash life on the Delta. Nordan gives a voice to Sugar Mecklin as he grows up in Mississippi with an alcoholic step-father and a few misfit friends. It reminded me of the Bobby Gentry song "Ode to Billie Joe". Nothing was thrown of any bridges, but plenty of mystery and pre-occupied adults. As a final thought I will add that I went right to my bookstore when I finished this book and bought another by this autho ...more
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Nordan can write an amazing sentence. This "novel" of connected stories tells the tale of a father, but more interesting is the backdrop of the Delta as authenticated by Nordan's origins in Itta Bena. I borrowed this book from a friend a bought it halfway through reading. I know that I will read these stories many more times, not just for enjoyment, but in attempt to learn lessons of the craft.
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
"Douglas' only ambition when he grew up was to become an apple. Mrs. Conroy, his mother, was an angry woman. She seemed especially angry at Douglas, the child of low ambition...Once he wanted to be a cork. That night his mother cried herself to sleep while Runt sat lovingly beside her bed and wrung his hands and said, 'He could do worse, darling, he could do a lot worse.'"
Meg Merriet
Nov 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Damn. What a fascinating gem of southern lit. Nordan knows how to rip your guts out with his masterful storytelling and rhythmic prose. Ask the right questions, he shows us. You don't have to blindly be a product of your culture. My favorite scene-one of them-is his grotesque exorcism of his racist heritage after his grandfather spouts a bunch of racist hate speech: "I got up from the dinner table that night and left the house without speaking to anyone. I walked straight to the Baptist church a ...more
I really love this book. The Mississippi Delta is a mysterious place where music and water are constants, and this author has caught it beautifully. I'm reminded of the folks in Jesmyn Ward's wonderful Salvage the Bones.

Mr. Nordan caused me to chuckle frequently, and a couple of lines caused me to guffaw! Of course others caused some serious reflection and a good bit of sadness -- and isn't this cover just perfect?!!

"Self-pity, self-dramatization -- the boring death-haunted thoughts of an alcoho
May 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: booksiveread
This has only been on my shelf since the 1990's!

I dont really know what it was about except some short quips about a kid named Sugar Mecklin. One review on the front of the book said, "Lyrically conjures up southern-fried childhood."

Aug 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Something absolutely beautiful abides in this book and its compelling stories. I really loved it.
Aug 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Lewis Nordan's writing is strongly but not typically Southern. By this I mean his prose is evocative of a particular locale, the Mississippi Delta. There are lakes with "cypress knees," local sheriffs ("Big Boy Chisholm") who wouldn't have been out of place in "Deliverance" or "Cool Hand Luke," blues music and blind old men, white trash and drunks and violence. Characters have names like Runt and Sugar and Roy Dale, Jeff(erson) Davis, Dixie Dawn, and John Wesley. But the book is a reminiscence o ...more
Oct 16, 2015 rated it liked it
"There is one more thing to tell. Many days later, when my illness was coming to an end, and the bandages were removed from my infected hand, I was lying in bed between clean sheets and with my head on two fluffed-up pillows my mother had put there, my grandfather, who now could see, came into my room and sat in a chair beside my bed. He had never done such a thing before.

Then he moved from the chair and actually sat on the bed itself, right beside me. I have to tell you, I was frightened. He co
May 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful book.

Sugar is a singular youngun, one who watches the people around him and thinks a lot about how things and people are connected to one another. His daddy drinks a lot, his mama loves the both of them. Sugar is alone much of the time.

This interconnected series of short stories begins when Sugar is about 8 and finish when he's an adult. They tell of the people who live in their little Mississippi town and of his own parents, who have a dance too painful and wonderful for a smal
Quirky and colorful, with an endearing central character -- a boy whose eyes see beyond surface of the small delta town in which he lives, and dips into the magic and mystery of the imagination. Descriptions of the everyday that will knock your socks off. Stories that will have you smiling one moment, before piercing your heart with poignancy. This was the kind of book that captures the mystery of the swamp's edge and transports you there (minus the miasma and mosquitoes). It gives a glimpse of ...more
Nov 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Dreamers; Fans of Southern fiction; Anyone who loves stories about idiosyncratic characters
“There’s pain in all love, but we don’t care, it’s worth it.”

Music of the Swamp by Lewis Nordan is one of my favorite novels of all time, in part because I relate to the main character, a young boy named Sugar Mecklin, whose worldview is filtered through his heightened imagination. If I had to describe this book in one word, I would call it "bittersweet," which is interesting, given the protagonist's name! Sugar is filled with hope and innocence, but the reality he encounters is anything but. S
Matt Simmons
Oct 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have read many novels about childhood, many novels about the relationship between a child and a parent, but this one, in its small, unpretentious stature, is truly special. This is a book that very aptly and powerfully expresses three things--the wonder of childhood, that strange recognition we all have when we realize our parents are flawed, pain-filled human beings just like we are, and the scary revelation that who we are is, very often, largely a new version, a revision of our parents. In ...more
Charles Raymond
Feb 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
The story is set in the 1950's, in the Delta of Mississippi. If you are looking for a strong Southern voice, the narrator will meet your request. Written in three parts, the first part is in third person limited, and the other two are in first person. You will hear the voice of Sugar Mecklin, a young boy who loves his father and is looking for his approval. This theme carries throughout the book, which spins ten connected but seperate stories of his life.

The story unfolds daily life in the back
May 28, 2014 rated it liked it
I received a copy of Lewis Nordan's Music of the Swamp compliments of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and appreciated the opportunity.

This is a fictional story of 10 year old Sugar Mecklin whose life in the Delta is a sad, but promising tale. Wanting to win over the love of his father, whose alcoholism and "bad luck" are a barrier to a typical father-son relationship. Sugar is aware of the poverty and dire circumstance of his surroundings, yet does not allow it to take away from his de
Jan 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully told story. Nordan uses the adult looking backward technique to construct his child narrator, which I am normally not so fond of. However, he manages to pull it off without losing the magic and beauty of the child world. A lot of writers I've seen use the technique to bring in thoughts and judgments that the child cannot supply, but end up changing the wondrous world of the child to the cold sterility of the adult. Nordan doesn't fall into that trap. Maybe it's because the ...more
Ron Hefner
Jun 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Although I've been researching southern writers for years, I just discovered Nordan. I see the influence of Faulkner, O'Connor, and Barry Hannah, as well as magic realists like Marquez and Borges. But Nordan has his own unique voice. His prose is evocative and poetic. The setting is vividly drawn. The sense of "being there" with Sugar Mecklin is palpable.

The story raises questions about memory--its inaccuracy, its selectivity. Nordan seems to be telling us that whether things actually happened o
Bryan D.
Jan 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Music of the Swamp is appropriately named. Lewis Norden's prose rolls like the mighty Mississippi or the waves breaking on the Gulf Coast beaches. Make no mistake, these are not pretty tales, but engaging stories of a self-professed white trash family living surrounded by other white trash families. Tales of alcohol, death, torrential rains, tornadoes, hurricanes, dead fish, dead whales, dead human bodies. Tales told in such a way that you, the reader, are right there along side Sugar Mecklin as ...more
Jennifer Collins
Sep 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-literature
Built from childhood humor and skepticism, this is one of those books which can transport readers back to a child's version of the world, as wonderful and horrible as that may be at different turns. Although it pulls together in what feels more like a series of sketches and anecdotes and understandings than a single full story, the work as a whole revolves around a boy's attempts at understanding a result, the work ends up being surprisingly cohesive, surprisingly touching.

Nordan's wor
Jul 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This memoir of the author as a 10-12 year old boy growing up in the Delta resonates with the sights and smells of the Mississippi flatlands. You are there with him. Though I wasn't exactly able to always identify with some of what was happening with him, I certainly got a strong sense of what life was like, even if I didn't always understand it. Maybe that's exactly as he intended because he clearly didn't always understand it either, and isn't that what it's like to be a kid?

The book is short,
Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Music of the Swamp, Lewis Nordan

I loved the voices in this book. They reminded me of my youth, before the television changed all our accents to mush. The people felt real, some sad, some disassociated, but all doing the best they can with what little they have. Hearing the stories from young Sugar was like sitting with my friends at that age. Each with our own point of view experiences and inexperience in the big wide world around us. I enjoyed this family but I wouldn’t want to live there. And
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lewis Nordan (August 23, 1939 – April 13, 2012) was an American writer.
Nordan was born to Lemuel and Sara Bayles in Forest, Mississippi, grew up in Itta Bena, Mississippi. He received his B.A. at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, his M.A. from Mississippi State University, and his Ph.D. from Auburn University in Alabama. In 1983, at age forty-five, Nord
More about Lewis Nordan...

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“A thousand times, when the train slowed or stopped, I thought of jumping off. I wanted to die in a ditch. I wanted to disappear. I wanted a different history and geography. In rhythm with the wheels I said I want I want I want I want I stayed on the train.” 8 likes
“For one second the woman and I seemed to become twins, or closer than twins, the same person together. Maybe we said nothing. Maybe we only lay in the band of sunlight that fell across our bed. Or maybe together we said, “There is great pain in all love, but we don’t care, it’s worth it.” 4 likes
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