Scott Brown
April 20, 2001 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Mama always said don’t speak ill of the dead, and that goes double for a sentimentalist like Morris, the celebrated Harper‘s editor and author of My Dog Skip and other quasi-classic tales of 1950s Mississippiana. His posthumously published novel Taps reads like ad hoc autobiography, and (surprise!) it’s about the Big Sleep, which enters the life of young Swayze Barksdale when he’s drafted to play graveside trumpet for the war dead returning from Korea. But really, this is about Morris (who died in 1999) and his coming to grips with the twin burdens of memory and mortality, which together seem to have awakened in him more operatic verbosity than insight. Case in point: His teenage protagonist’s sex scenes (”…embraced by the soft, ardent cauldron of her…I heard my own enraptured cry”) resemble something akin to a chat-room encounter between Danielle Steele and Faulkner.

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