January 15, 1996 12:00 PM

by Lewis Nordan

Hydro Raney inhabits a cypress tree above a swamp. At night he reads comics by flashlight and listens to the sounds of faraway gators. Most days he works at the William Tell grocery selling bootleg whiskey and gasoline. When two teenagers visit the store one evening, planning to rob it, they end up shot, and Hydro’s easy life is forever altered.

Poignant like The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and off-center like the best of Flannery O’Connor, this bittersweet novel revisits Arrow Catcher, Miss., the setting of Nordan’s acclaimed 1994 novel Wolf Whistle. Arrow Catcher can be a dangerous place. A dark, sometimes bright magic possesses this small town, and in the end Hydro miraculously becomes the man he could never be. (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $17.95)

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