fur coat

I have a story about Lewis Nordan. It’s not really about Wolf Whistle, but it does help to explain why I think he’s fantastic. First off, I wasn’t there. But I’ve heard this story enough that my memory seems to think I was. We’ll go from there.

Nordan was on a book tour in about 1996 for what I’m guessing was Sugar Among the Freaks, a story collection (that you should read). He did a reading at the Campus Book Mart in Starkville, where a friend worked. During the reading, there was a woman up front who was disruptive in some way. I can’t remember how, so let’s make something up. Maybe she smacked her gum, maybe she said “mmm-hmm” loudly in response to the reading, maybe she was clicking a pen — whatever it was, the crowd was aware of it. The reading ended, and Nordan and the staff of the store (plus a few lucky extras) went to dinner. During dinner, Nordan said something like, “What was that woman’s problem?” and proceeded to detail the ways in which she was annoying. There was a silence. Then one of the store employees, a young man, said, “That’s my mother.”

Having been in pretty much this exact situation myself when I worked at a luggage store and insulted a lady wearing a full length fur coat at a Texas mall in July, this story caught my interest. So, Nordan, you’ve been caught dogging on someone’s mom. How do you defend yourself?

Lewis Nordan said, “I hurt you, son, and I’m sorry.”

This moment of apology does more than merely apologize. It’s an acknowledgment of Nordan’s wrongdoing, and beyond that, how his actions affected another human being. I think this ability to acknowledge self and other is what makes his writing so magical. Nordan’s characters are obviously flawed, just beyond imperfect, which seems logical, as that’s how humans are. But we don’t often see them in the books we read, unless we’re reading really great books. It’s easier to have a good character and a bad character instead of a complex character who maybe tries to be good but ends up hurting people anyway. So while I wasn’t there, I think about how brave it was for him to say “I hurt you, son, and I’m sorry” to a stranger (and how I should’ve said something similar to my coworker at the luggage store, whose mom was wearing that fur coat).