Blue Rider Press. 2018. 289 pages.
Reviewed by Scott Ray
Time after time in Nick White’s second book, Sweet and Low, characters confront dilemmas they “haven’t yet found a language for.” In “Cottonmouth, Trapjaw, Water Moccasin” a solitary bigot is crushed underneath a wrecked lawnmower, bellowing impotently knowing “no one would hear him,” out alone in the country, abandoned by a son whose lifestyle he has condemned. An entire rural town is scandalized by erotic renderings of teenage conjoined twins in “These Heavenly Bodies.” The young artist doesn’t get a chance to explain his obsession with capturing their likeness before his young voice is silenced by the police. There are no easy endings in these stories—they often end with the threat or the stroke of violence. The telling itself is what gets us through, even if the telling has necessarily had the edges smoothed off.
Nick White is a Mississippi native, as any Mississippi native would recognize from the first story in this collection. While Faulkner created a fictional Yoknapatawpha County, White almost always opts for the vivid, real geography of Mississippi. He writes of the Delta’s “bleeding red clay” littered with “fields complete with irrigation machines and faraway tractors. His characters drive through Jackson Mississippi and up and down I-55, that artery pulsing up the center of the state.
I hesitate to place any author under the giant Southern shadow of Faulkner, but White invites comparisons to other authors with his