In a rambling but effective manner, William Howly recalls the story of his odd friend, Arden Quadberry. They first meet by accident. Seeking to punish a nearby black family for what he believes was the savage treatment of a pig, William and another boy, Radcleve, shell the black family’s home with Radcleve’s homemade mortar. The shells, actually batteries, fall short, landing on the house occupied by the Quadberrys. Mr. Quadberry is a history professor and his wife is a musician; their son, Ard, with his Arab nose, saxophone, and mud-caked shoes, is not accepted by the other boys. Sent by his parents to tell the boys to stop the shelling, Ard is nearly blinded on the return trip when Radcleve nonchalantly tosses an M-80 firecracker packed in mud in his direction.
Made uneasy by his own silent complicity in the act as well as by Ard’s strangeness, Howly keeps his distance until their senior year, when Ard joins the school band. As their lives begin to intersect, Howly, the band’s drummer, has the opportunity to observe Ard more closely. Once he enters the band room and comes on Ard and a small, red-faced ninth-grade euphonium player who calls him “Queerberry,” and is beaten for his temerity. At the state championship, held in nearby Jackson, Howly sees a different side of his unusual friend. When Prender, the much-loved band director, is killed en route to Jackson in a head-on crash with an ambulance, Quadberry takes charge. Not only does he direct the others, he plays so brilliantly that the judges applaud, an attractive woman in her thirties walks up to Ard and introduces herself, and the beautiful Lilian, the majorette and third-chair clarinetist who missed the start of the performance...
(The entire section is 699 words.)