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with supplemental oxygen, climbers grow dizzy, headachy and confused. When Krakauer reached the summit he spent only a few minutes there and experienced no elation whatsoever ; he could think only of the fresh oxygen tank cached for him a few hundred yards down. The critical feature of the final climb is the turnaround time, the time at which it's necessary to go back, for reasons of safety, no matter how close one is to the summit. The guides on Krakauer's expedition were adamant about the turnaround time (1:30 p.m.) until the day of the final ascent, when they broke their own rule. Then a storm moved in, and several climbers died, both from Krakauer's group and from the dozen other groups who were on the mountain at the same time. Krakauer's account contains many astounding examples of foolhardiness and courage: the New York socialite who had the latest issues of fashion magazines brought to her by Sherpa runner; the Taiwanese group who ignored the death of one of their comrades; the man who was left for dead and who later walked into camp under his own power. AU these tales are told in the plain voice of a humble but expert climber with fine moral sensibilities —a voice that is intrinsically believable. With the help of a few maps and pithy descriptions of nature, the author places us on the Khumbu Icefall , the South Col and the HUlary Step, while making us keenly appreciate the warmth and safety of our reading rooms. What he doesn't do is make explicit judgments about expeditions like the one he took part in. He leaves it to readers to decide whether or not anyone at all should be paying to climb Everest and whether or not reaching the summit isn't an essentially dumb idea. Krakauer has written three previous nonfiction books, including Into the Wild, the story of a young man who attempted to live off the land in an abandoned bus during the Alaskan winter. Into Thin Air, notable for its careful refusal to go beyond the facts, is his best yet. (JS) Lightning Song by Lewis Nordan Algonquin, 1997, 273 pp., $18.95 Early in Nordan's hilarious fourth novel, Leroy, the lonely twelve year old from whose innocent perspective the story is told, resuscitates his grandfather, whom he's found lifeless in the attic of his family's house on a Mississippi llama farm. Hours later, Old Pappy dies for good, and Leroy's lazy Uncle Harris moves in, bringing with him dirty magazines, alcohol, the daily news, and a sensual excitement that captivates Leroy's romantic mother, Elsie. As the oddly stormy events of the summer that follows illustrate, when fantasy becomes reality, it does so like a lightning bolt: the force is quick, but the effects linger. An extraordinary burst of seasonal thunderstorms batters the Mississippi countryside, and lightning frequently hits Leroy's house. Eerie fireballs regularly come down the chimney and bounce around the small farmhouse. Leroy is discovering his hormones, however, and his attention remains firmly focused on 224 · The Missouri Review the sexual tension that electrifies his family more effectively than the harmless lightning balls: Elsie sneaks kisses from Uncle Harris; Swami Don, Leroy's father, begins an affair at his part-time job; and Leroy is infatuated with and seduced by a highschool baton-twirling beauty. The strength of the story rests in the muddled view Leroy takes toward the summer's swirling events. As they unfold, his perception widens and his self-awareness grows, though much of his newfound knowledge is based on misconception. Leroy comes to understand his mother's desire for Harris after "creepy-crawling" through his uncle's skin magazines. Yet when the baton-twirling Ruby Rae tricks him into his first sexual experience, Leroy realizes that sex is "entirely different from the pictures in Uncle Harris' magazines. Entirely different." As the novel progresses, we find that Leroy's emerging perspective is not all that different from that of the adults around him. Elsie constructs a romantic vision of herself and Harris as a way to escape the monotony of the farm. Swami...


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pp. 214-215
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