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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 Don, whose left arm is useless due to a shooting accident, forges a relationship to bolster his self-esteem. But when faced with actual sex, both are embarrassed to discover, like Leroy, the vast differences between fantasy and reality. Even Uncle Harris , the icon of fresh sexuality to Leroy at the summer's start, is reduced to "creepy-crawling" in the attic on the phone with his estranged wife. If Lightning Song lacks the impact of Nordan's last book, The Sharpshooter Blues, it's nevertheless a memorable novel. Nordan's sense of the vernacular is keen, and as always , he delights in finding humor in the apparently tragic and pathetic events of life. (GH) The Universal Donor by Craig Nova Houghton Mifflin, 1997, 250 pp., $23 Nova is fully in the driver's seat in this tale of love and crime and medicine set in southern California; novels this well made don't come along every day. It's the story of Terry McKechnie, single, thirtysomething emergency room doctor, whose type O blood makes him the universal donor of the title. Terry is committed to his profession and not yet hardened by his daily caseload of gunshot and stabbing victims. He's sensitive and lonely, and plagued by a sense of emptiness that he quells in his few free hours by taking Xanax. When a young, on-the-edge scientist named Virginia Lee shows up in the ER after being bitten by an exotic venomous snake, Terry finds himself in over his head, both professionally and emotionally. The case is complicated by the fact that Virginia is allergic to the antivenom—a reaction is potentiaUy as fatal as the snakebite itself—and by the lack of available information about how to treat such a bite. To make matters worse, Virginia's blood is a rare type that breaks down any donated blood unless it matches hers. Ironically, when she begins to hemorrhage, Terry, the universal donor, can't give blood to save her. The Missouri Review · 215 The story of Terry's past connection with Virginia, gradually revealed in the course of the novel, and that of his efforts to find a blood donor for her, are fraught with intrigue and daring coincidence. There's plenty of sex and passion and danger, all of which Nova, something of a romantic, seems to applaud as essential to human fulfillment . There's betrayal and adultery, and all the violence and tragedy that one would expect a Los Angeles ER physician to be witness to. There's also an ex-con/car thief/rapist with whom Terry develops a curious codependent relationship and has several serious heart-to-hearts. If the plot sometimes seems a bit too contrived, and the whole a touch too stylized, these are forgivable flaws in a book that manages to entertain so eloquently. Nova's mastery of his craft is impressive and the moral question he poses is an important one: how much do we owe to ourselves and how much to others ; and at what price does self-fulfillment become too costly? (ES) Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's...


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