What’s Wolf Whistle all about, anyway? Here’s a description:
Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, novelist Lewis Nordan was fifteen years old the summer two white men from the next town were tried for the murder of a black boy who wolf-whistled at a white woman. The boy’s name was Emmett Till and the year his murderers were tried (and acquitted) was 1955.
In the thirty-eight years since, that white adolescent’s impressions of what happened in Money, Mississippi, have been turned over in Nordan’s mind and memory. In the turning, those impressions have gathered the odd outgrowths and distortions of this writer’s truly wild imagination. The outlines of real events have been subsumed into entirely new and different shapes. The result is Wolf Whistle, a novel starring a Mississippi white-trash girl named Alice who understands — in her heart — the meaning of evil.
Alice is the fourth-grade teacher at the Arrow Catcher Elementary School and she yearns to teach her pupils things worth learning. She believes the best way to do it is with field trips. The first trip of the 1955 school year is to the bedside of the fourth-grader’s terminally burned classmate, Glenn Gregg. (Glenn got in the way of a gasoline fire he set to burn up his despicable daddy.) The final trip is to be to the courthouse where Alice and her fourth grade class attend the murder trial of Glenn Gregg’s despicable daddy, Solon, and his employer, Lord Montberclair, whose wife’s beauty is what inspired a black teenager’s reckless compliment (“Hubba, hubba”).
In between those two educational forays, Nordan takes the reader on a field trip of his own — along the crooked paths of righteous racism and violence that lead to the courthouse gallery where the reader joins Alice and her fourth graders to witness the 1950s American Southern ethic at work. Soft heart turned “bleeding heart,” it is Alice in whom the germ of guilt recognition grows, matures, and bears fruit to pass on to future generations of white southerners. It is inside Alice’s brilliant heart that Lewis Nordan has come of age as a novelist.