four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
By: 
Larry Brown
user_rating: 
0

A-A Miracle of CatfishLarry Brown died in 2004 at age 53, leaving behind a nearly completed novel. Despite the unfinished nature of the work, his trademark themes—Southern backwater culture, fatherhood, alienation, and connection—emerge loud and clear through a set of downtrodden, true-to-life characters. Hoping to entice visitors, Cortez Sharp, a lonely widower, builds a catfish pond on his Mississippi farm. He attracts nine-year-old Jimmy, the emotionally deprived son of a degenerate, trailer-park father, and they strike up a companionship. Others striving to right their place in the world include Cortez’s daughter, Lucinda, and her Tourette-stricken boyfriend; Cleve, an African American convict who kills to protect his daughter; and Ursula, a ravenous, 40-pound catfish. As their lives converge, secrets surface and alter them all.
Algonquin. 455 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1565125363

Chicago Sun-Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Miracle of Catfish is a guttural joy. … [Brown] understood the values of spacing, deep soul and wry humor. His gutsy style reminds good writers why they wanted to write in the first place." Dave Hoekstra

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"What we have is a gritty and compelling story that ranks with the best of Brown’s fiction, with Father and Son and Dirty Work. And Larry Brown in progress is better than just about anyone else polished and spit-shined." John Dufresne

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Bad accidents happen, conflicted men do thoughtless, selfish and brutal things; yet Brown has a way of giving heartbreak, violence, even hopelessness, an oddball, funny slant, or a moment of surprising grace that keeps you from passing early judgment on his people. His willingness to show the good, the bad and the ugly gives A Miracle of Catfish a kind of scarred beauty that loses little of its power by being unfinished." Richard Wallace

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Brown loved to go step by step through the least dramatic of actions: messing with an engine or tending to a sick cow. He’s best appreciated by patient readers, the way a summer afternoon at a backwoods pond stocked with catfish is best enjoyed. Sooner or later, the fish will bite like his sentences do." Bob Minzesheimer

Rocky Mountain News 3 of 5 Stars
"No matter how indecent a character may seem on the surface, Brown has a seemingly effortless way of making readers feel the same fondness for the character that he obviously has. … Brown had a gift for storytelling and creating characters as real as your own neighbors." Gary Williams

Critical Summary

In his novels and short stories, Larry Brown captured the gritty intricacies of daily, rural Southern life. A Miracle of Catfish, which Brown’s editor streamlined after his death, chronicles a set of downtrodden Mississippi denizens dealing with racial tension, trust, and interpersonal and familial conflict. Brown, a native of Lafayette County, Mississippi, understood his land and people well, and, in heartrending, stripped-down prose, created a memorable human landscape. Not surprisingly, a few critics faulted the meandering, unresolved subplots and lack of finale. But A Miracle is worth reading simply for the characters alone: "[Brown] knew his corner of the world, and its people, inside out," concludes the Seattle Times. "His lasting gift to us is that he mastered their voices and got them down on paper."

Also by the Author

Father and Son (1996): Award Star Southern Book Award. A man returns home to the Mississippi Delta after serving time in prison for homicide. He intends to avenge all of the perceived wrongs done to him by the sheriff, his lover, and his alcoholic father—but he should have stayed in jail.