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Fiction Review  

Taps
By Willie Morris
Houghton Mifflin, 2001
ISBN: 06-180-9859-3

 

Willie Morris was a very special person. He was an extraordinarily talented writer and editor. He was an entertaining raconteur. And he was a superb friend.

I had the great good fortune to know him, if only slightly. With Taps, he ends a career that was cut short prematurely when he died of a heart attack more than a year ago. With Taps, he leaves behind an elegy for a small Southern town in the 1950s, when the boys from Yazoo City and other locales were being brought home in boxes from a strange place called Korea. With Taps, Willie Morris resonates through the passage of time with an age-old drama about a boy and a dog growing up together in a soft but unyielding atmosphere.

Sometimes the author heaps a bit too much sentiment onto the platter of life, but I am not sure this story would be nearly as good if it didn’t have too much honey on the grits. I don’t care for honey on my grits, but if that’s what it takes to make it palatable, pour it on.

Willie Morris creates a milieu he knows well. Into that world he places a good young man, Swayze Barksdale, sixteen years old and the second-best trumpet player in town. The best is his friend, Arch Kidd. Together, they are recruited by Luke Cartright, a veteran of WWII, to play Taps at military funerals. And throughout the year one of the boys plays Taps next to the grave and the other plays the echo from a distant hillside.

Swayze’s relationship with his girl friend, Georgia, whom he has known “since the beginning,” grows through the pages of Taps from the girl who hugs and kisses him on the cheek. Georgia, “spoiled, irreverent, unpredictable,” develops from a close friend to an awkward lover to someone who is not everything at all times for this young man who seeks the ideal in everything.  

Although at times awkward in its own immaturity, reeking with sentimentality, as sweet as a honeysuckle blossom, Taps mirrors the maturation of Swayze Barksdale and Georgia and the dog Dusty and their townspeople. It is a beautiful book that brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face. It is a good way to remember Willie Morris.

 

Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews

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