A Miracle of Catfish

( 5 )

Overview

Larry Brown has been a force in American literature since taking critics by storm with his debut collection, Facing the Music, in 1988. His subsequent work—five novels, another story collection, and two books of nonfiction—continued to bring extraordinary praise and national attention to the writer New York Newsday called a "master."

In November 2004, Brown sent the nearly completed manuscript of his sixth novel to his literary agent. A week ...

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A Miracle of Catfish

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Overview

Larry Brown has been a force in American literature since taking critics by storm with his debut collection, Facing the Music, in 1988. His subsequent work—five novels, another story collection, and two books of nonfiction—continued to bring extraordinary praise and national attention to the writer New York Newsday called a "master."

In November 2004, Brown sent the nearly completed manuscript of his sixth novel to his literary agent. A week later, he died of a massive heart attack. He was fifty-three years old.

A Miracle of Catfish is that novel. Brown's trademarks—his raw detail, pared-down prose, and characters under siege—are all here.

This beautiful, heartbreaking anthem to the writer's own North Mississippi land and the hard-working, hard-loving, hard-losing men it spawns is the story of one year in the lives of five characters—an old farmer with a new pond he wants stocked with baby catfish; a bankrupt fish pond stocker who secretly releases his forty-pound brood catfish into the farmer's pond; a little boy from the trailer home across the road who inadvertently hooks the behemoth catfish; the boy's inept father; and a former convict down the road who kills a second time to save his daughter.

That Larry Brown died so young, and before he could see A Miracle of Catfish published, is a tragedy. That he had time to enrich the legacy of his work with this remarkable book is a blessing.

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Editorial Reviews

Outside
"Despite its designation as an "incomplete work" . . . its dry wit and gorgeous intimacy with the natural world make it as satisfying as anything Brown wrote. At the end of its 464 pages, the only thing readers will miss is the craftsman himself."
Outside magazine
New York Times Book Review
“The most compassionate of writers, Brown loves every living no-good heart he commits to paper. . . . A Miracle of Catfish yields so many pleasures, it hurts to say so.”
— New York Times Book Review
USA Today
A Miracle of Catfish is vintage Brown. It's driven by terse sentences, haunting images and a sense of place you can almost smell and taste . . . [and] filled with memorable characters. . . . Brown was a writer who was never writerly. He was never self-consciously literary, yet created a literature that will last.”
USA Today
People Magazine
“Brimming with humor and sympathy for the hardscrabble lives of ordinary people. The only flaw is that it's the last Larry Brown novel we'll be lucky enough to read.”
People
Men's Journal
“A Southern noir stylist publishes his best work. . . . When the novelist Larry Brown died in November 2004, the nation lost an irreplaceable literary voice. Spare, bluesy, and grimly beautiful, his books mapped the rough contours of life in his native north Mississippi. . . . His best work may have been A Miracle of Catfish. . . . Miracle is classic Larry, gritty and unflinching, with a wide-as-an-interstate streak of mischief running through its center. . . . [Brown is] a fierce and natural writer, a once-in-a-lifetime comet of big, bad, raw talent.”
Men's Journal
From the Publisher
“A Southern noir stylist publishes his best work. . . . When the novelist Larry Brown died in November 2004, the nation lost an irreplaceable literary voice. Spare, bluesy, and grimly beautiful, his books mapped the rough contours of life in his native north Mississippi. . . . His best work may have been A Miracle of Catfish. . . . Miracle is classic Larry, gritty and unflinching, with a wide-as-an-interstate streak of mischief running through its center. . . . [Brown is] a fierce and natural writer, a once-in-a-lifetime comet of big, bad, raw talent.”
Men's Journal
People Magazine
“Brimming with humor and sympathy for the hardscrabble lives of ordinary people. The only flaw is that it's the last Larry Brown novel we'll be lucky enough to read.”
People
USA Today
A Miracle of Catfish is vintage Brown. It's driven by terse sentences, haunting images and a sense of place you can almost smell and taste . . . [and] filled with memorable characters. . . . Brown was a writer who was never writerly. He was never self-consciously literary, yet created a literature that will last.”
USA Today
Outside
"Despite its designation as an "incomplete work" . . . its dry wit and gorgeous intimacy with the natural world make it as satisfying as anything Brown wrote. At the end of its 464 pages, the only thing readers will miss is the craftsman himself."
Outside magazine
New York Times Book Review
“The most compassionate of writers, Brown loves every living no-good heart he commits to paper. . . . A Miracle of Catfish yields so many pleasures, it hurts to say so.”
— New York Times Book Review
Men's Journal
“A Southern noir stylist publishes his best work. . . . When the novelist Larry Brown died in November 2004, the nation lost an irreplaceable literary voice. Spare, bluesy, and grimly beautiful, his books mapped the rough contours of life in his native north Mississippi. . . . His best work may have been A Miracle of Catfish. . . . Miracle is classic Larry, gritty and unflinching, with a wide-as-an-interstate streak of mischief running through its center. . . . [Brown is] a fierce and natural writer, a once-in-a-lifetime comet of big, bad, raw talent.”
Men's Journal
Beverly Lowry
A Miracle of Catfish yields so many pleasures, it hurts to say so. And while a book without an ending is a little like a joke without a punchline, in this case I expect we should be glad for what we have. Ravenel says that what’s been published is “as clear as can be,” and that seems about right.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This sprawling novel was unfinished when Mississippi writer Brown (Dirty Work, etc.) died at 53 in 2004. (It remains so, according to a note from editor Shannon Ravenel, who includes Brown's own notes for how the novel would end.) Cortez Sharp, a widower in his later years, decides to build a catfish pond on his Mississippi acreage, mostly because the pond will serve (he imagines drily and obliquely) to bring others around and assuage his dark loneliness. Nearby live young Jimmy and his ne'er-do-well father ("Jimmy's daddy"). There's also Lucinda, who is Cortez's daughter and the mother of Albert, a young man with Tourette's syndrome who speaks in rhyming obscenities. Lucinda pops tranquilizers and has a talent for getting into odd squabbles (over the quality of pigs' feet in a supermarket, for one). Elsewhere, Cleve, an African-American ex-con, kills a soldier who is the object of his daughter's affections and hides the body in the woods. Despite the cuts that Ravenel says were made (marked in the text with ellipses), there's a lot of superfluously detailed family history, interior monologue and Dixie atmospherics. Would-be boffo sequences (Cortez driving a tractor into the pond; Jimmy becoming inconsolable when his father sells his beloved Go Kart), are not sharp enough to carry one through. (May)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
When he passed away unexpectedly in 2004 at age 53, beloved Southern fiction writer Brown (e.g., Joe; Father and Son) left behind a virtually complete manuscript for a sixth novel. Although it concludes after 450 pages with Brown's notes for the final chapters, it may nonetheless be his finest work. The masterly narrative returns to rural, hardscrabble Mississippi and features as its protagonist a charming and vulnerable ten-year-old boy named Jimmy. The adults in Jimmy's life are reckless and deeply flawed, and Brown beautifully captures Jimmy's innocence and puzzled understanding of the complex adult world he sees. Brown also brings vividly to life Jimmy's family and a large cast of colorful, beleaguered, and sometimes dangerous neighborhood characters. Often humorous but sometimes harrowing, this multilayered story about fatherhood, a boy's go-kart, and a new catfish pond is effortlessly and joyously told. Enthusiastically recommended.-Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The inhabitants of a rural Mississippi town circle one another warily, just steps away from open conflict, in Brown's busy sixth novel, left unfinished when he died in 2004. Valedictory introductions by the author's friend Barry Hannah and editor Shannon Ravenel offer pre-emptive strikes against anticipated criticism, but they really aren't necessary: Even incomplete, the book has much to offer. Its cast of vivid characters features septuagenarian farmer Cortez Sharp, soured by caring for a moribund wife confined to her wheelchair and enslaved by TV, who channels his energies into a pond on his property to be stocked with catfish. We also meet Cortez's supplier, Tommy Bright, whose fish farm is endangered by his gambling debts; Cortez's daughter Lucinda, living in Atlanta with boyfriend Albert, who's afflicted with Tourette's syndrome and speaks in rhyming obscenities; and Cortez's tenant Cleve, an African-American ex-convict who undertakes to discourage the soldier who's courting his daughter. The most substantial subplot focuses on neighboring youngster Jimmy, who becomes Sharp's unlikely confidant, and Jimmy's unnamed father, an embittered maintenance man who follows his straying wife's adulterous example with unforeseen and depressing consequences. Brown digs deep into these weathered souls, repeatedly surprising the reader with quirky, explosive behavior and even contrary moments of grace. He was unexcelled in describing people at work and the whiplash confusion of sudden, violent action. Though the narrative was clearly building toward a complex resolution of its separate elements, the final 60 or so pages-which really ought to have been separated from the main text and presented inan appendix-are only disjointed stabs at a conclusion. Given an impressive track record that runs from Facing the Music (1988) to The Rabbit Factor (2003), few will doubt that in time, the author would have completed the task and perhaps even crafted a great book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565125360
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 3/20/2007
  • Pages: 455
  • Sales rank: 1,423,261
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Larry Brown was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi, where he lived all his life. At the age of thirty, a captain in the Oxford Fire Department, he decided to become a writer and worked toward that goal for seven years before publishing his first book, Facing the Music, a collection of stories, in 1988. With the publication of his first novel, Dirty Work, he quit the fire station in order to write fulltime. Between then and his untimely death in 2004, he published seven more books. His three grown children and his widow, Mary Annie Brown, live near Oxford.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2008

    A reviewer

    Having been a fan of Larry Brown's, I am surprised there are no reviews. So, here is my review. Having read many of Brown's book and having met him in person for a signing of Big Bad Love, his writing is as pleasant as his person. Characters in this book include an old man with a pond, a big catfish, a boy named Jimmy 'with a go-cart', a recently released convict named Cleve, the old man's daughter ' a plus size model' and the daughter's Tourette syndrome boyfriend. In between there are a number of additional characters. The most important to additionally note is 'Jimmy's daddy' - Brown does not name him but in story you come to realize why. The drama of everyday life in a majority of people in the world is encapsulated by the writing of Larry Brown through the deceptively small tragedies to the effect of those tragedies 'resulting from bad decisions' on others. Yes, the end is notes, but the direction you know, and it is real in the life continues with characters in all books. That this is 'unfinished' is no reason to not read it. There are two dead bodies in this case. There are consequences of Jimmy's daddy having an affair at work 'an appliance factor where he is but a simple maintenance man'. Also culturally, the hunting, the drinking, a trailer, rite of passage of killing a deer, to the fantasy of so many good Joes of catching that big fish. They all intertwine and if you miss this book, you are missing out on the drama and comedy of everyday internal struggles that we all can relate to or have seen or suspected but have not examined or related to one another but through good writing as provided by Larry Brown. I highly recommend it for its style and its beauty in its simplicity and lessons contained within but not overtly. I recommend this writer to persons I work with, from law enforcement to my brother that works in agriculture. They have so embraced it... that there is a universality to his work that they as well as academics have appreciated.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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