Colony member, K. Snedeker, dies

Kenneth E. “Kenny” Snedeker, 80, who joined the Handy Writers’ Colony in 1954, died on April 2017. As a young man right out of high school, Snedeker joined the Colony in Marshall, Illinois. Even before then, in 1952, he met James Jones and Lowney and her husband, Harry.


Kenneth was a resident of West Terre Haute, Indiana at the time of passing. His mother passed away when he was eleven years old and he later went to live with his Uncle and Aunt Johnie and March Snedeker, where he made his home until he graduated from Marshall High School in 1954. He served in the United States Army from 1955 to 1957 and after returning from the service he went to work at Quality Lime Company.

In 2001, Terre Haute journalist Steve Kash interviewed Kenny about his experiences in the Handy Writers’ Colony.

Kash: Kenny, how did you become involved with the Handy Writers’ Colony in Marshall?

Snedeker: My uncle Johnie [sic] Snedeker was the contractor hired to build the Colony and Jim Jones’s bachelor house. When I was in high school, I would come out and visit my uncle and the workmen after school let out for the day, and I met Jim and Lowney during these visits.

Kash: What year was this?

Snedeker: 1953 and ’54.

Kash: When did you move onto the Colony grounds?

Snedeker: When I graduated from high school in April of 1954, I went to Lowney. I was kind of down and out, and she was known to take in the downtrodden, and so on, and she invited me in and said, “I’ll get a book out of you.” Then I told her I’d lost a tooth, and she said, “We’ll fix that tooth, too.” Well, she never did, but that’s how I came to be invited in.

Kash: Was she like a mother figure for you?

Snedeker: Well, I was an illegitimate child, and my mother had died when I was ten years old, and my uncle and aunt, bless their hearts, took me in, but once I graduated from high school and was seventeen, they said, “You’re out on your own—you know—go find work and make your own way in the world.” I was scared and went to Lowney, and she took me under her wing.

Kash: How long had the Colony been in operation before you went and lived there?

Snedeker: It opened in 1949.

Kash: So, there were several colony members before you arrived?

Snedeker: Yes.

Kash: How many people were at the colony when you went to live on it in April 1954?

Snedeker: Approximately 15. I think ten were permanent and five were coming and going.

Kash: What age people were they?

Snedeker: They were all ages. I was probably the youngest. I’d say the oldest were in their late fifties.

Kash: Were there any females, or was it all male?

Snedeker: Let’s see, there was one female was there for a while (I think she was Lowney’s niece), and the rest were male. Lowney discouraged females, because, you know, that causes problems.

Kash: Had you been interested in writing in high school or in literature when you were in high school?

Snedeker: No. No interest at all. Lowney got me interested.

Kash: Did it cost you anything to move onto the colony?

Snedeker: No, not a penny.

Kash: Everything was provided?

Snedeker: Everything was provided. You just needed to bring your clothing.

Kash: And she provided all the food?

Snedeker: Yes.

Kash: What if a person needed some extra spending money?

Snedeker: They kept a little cash pot in the Ramada kitchen, and you could take money out of that and buy some postage, or if you needed a pair of socks, or maybe some underwear, but you couldn’t buy booze with it.

Kash: What was the daily schedule at the Handy Colony?

Snedeker: Well, reveille was 5:30, and when I would hear Lowney’s screen door slam and her shower shoes clapping on her feet and heels as she walked across the white rock to the Ramada, I knew it was time to get up to go eat breakfast.

Kash: What kind of breakfast would you have?

Snedeker: Well, it was a frugal breakfast. We had raisin toast; also you could make some hot cereal, or cold cereal. There was no talking allowed during breakfast—none whatsoever. You were supposed to be gathering your thoughts about what you were going to do that day. And after taking thirty minutes or so for breakfast, you’d go back to the barracks where you’d work on your daily assignment from Lowney of what author she wanted you to copy.

Kash: How much of the time you spent in the barracks was copying other writers’ works?

Snedeker: A couple of hours a day.

Kash: Can you give me examples of the works of the writers you copied?

Snedeker: Well, let’s see, there was Faulkner, Dos Passos, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald—Hemingway was a big one.

Kash: Did Lowney allow students to talk between yourselves about your writing or what you were interested in writing about?

Snedeker: No.

Kash: Do you know why she had this rule?

Snedeker: She never really explained it, but I can understand it. You just concentrated on your own work, I guess.

Kash: How long were you expected to write every day?

Snedeker: Until noon to one—then we would eat lunch.

Kash: After that, would you free to do anything you wanted to do, or did Lowney have other expectations?

Snedeker: We had work around the Colony to do—mowing, maintenance.

Kash: Did you work on building the swimming pool?

Snedeker: The swimming pool was already built when I got there. I remember seeing earlier students working on it when I visited there in 52, 53, 54—they had a huge pile of bricks that still had the mortar on them that came from the Robinson refinery, and these guys were out there chipping the mortar off. Each brick was cleaned and hand-laid in that pool.

Kash: Where was the pool located?

Snedeker: It was in the area between the barracks and the Ramada. Before the pool was built a hollow had been there. They brought in a bulldozer from the Robinson oil refinery where Harry Handy was the superintendent and dug out the hollow and built a dam on the west end.

Kash: So for the colony members in 1954 laboring was easier laboring than 1953 and 1952?

Snedeker: Oh yes. Right.

Kash: Did you get a chance in the afternoons to goof off, play football, run around out in the yard, or play games?

Snedeker: Some played ping-pong or shuffleboard in the Ramada. I mainly did a little trampoline. Not very much, I was scared of it, but Jim would come over once and a while and I’d get up on it.

Kash: Jim was Jim Jones?

Snedeker: Jim Jones. And he was good on the trampoline! He could jump up there and do flip-flops.

Kash: Did he ever criticize the other Colonists for their technique on the trampoline?

Snedeker: Yes. Those of us who were awkward on it, he’d get impatient and think we should learn quicker.

Kash: Was he a show-off?

Snedeker: Yes. Jim was very much a show-off—with about everything he did.

Kash: Was anybody as good as him on the trampoline among the other writers’ colony members?

Snedeker: No. Couldn’t be.

Kash: What did you do in the evenings at the Colony? Did you have TV to watch, or did Lowney let you listen to radio?

Snedeker: No. You were to read.

Kash: What kind of books did you read?

Snedeker: Mostly assigned books, which were by the same authors, like Hemingway and Steinbeck, that she had us copy. Sometimes we’d read dime novels. She wouldn’t have liked that if she knew it.

Kash: Were there other ways you passed free time in addition to reading?

Snedeker: Some of the fellows could go to Terre Haute to the whorehouses, if you had the money, which I never did.

Kash: Would she give you money to go the whorehouses?

Snedeker: No, no, couldn’t do that.

Kash: Was it was OK, as far as she was concerned, to take a trip to the whorehouses if you had the money?

Snedeker: Sure. And a lot of people at the colony went drinking to Bohannon’s in Terre Haute. It was there on Wabash Avenue. I think it’s still in business.

Kash: Were there any other establishments that colony members frequented that are still in existence now in 2001?

Snedeker: Not that I know of except for Bohannon’s. I know Jim frequented that one quite a bit.

Kash: Were you expected to write or work on Saturdays, or did you have a more relaxed schedule?

Snedeker: No, same schedule.

Kash: You are from the Marshall area, so did you have any visits from your friends? Were you able to visit your friends?

Snedeker: Yes, I invited two out there one afternoon. Joe Smitley and Norman Duzan. I wanted to impress them. And I could go leave and have dinner with my family any time I wanted to since they lived right there in town.

Kash: What was your routine on Sundays?

Snedeker: Didn’t do a whole lot, really. Just kind of lounged around. A lot of them swam, played games and cards or chess.

Kash: Would you go to movies? Was there a Marshall movie theater?

Snedeker: Yeah, we still had the Marshall movie theater.

Kash: Was there a drive-in theater?

Snedeker: No, had to go to Paris for that, but we had a nice theater in Marshall so we could do movies on the weekend.

Kash: How about girlfriends? Were you allowed to have a girlfriend if you were on the Colony.

Snedeker: No, you were discouraged, although I broke the rules and had a girlfriend.

Kash: Why did Lowney not want the guys to have girlfriends?

Snedeker: It interfered with your writing as far as Lowney was concerned. I remember Lowney saying to me one time that marriage, or women, were the kiss of death to an artist.

Kash: How were lunch and dinner meals at the colony?

Snedeker: Good food. Simple food. Lowney would usually cook, but sometimes some of the other Colonists would fix it if they had a particular item they excelled in cooking.

Kash: What were Lowney’s favorite things to cook?

Snedeker: She loved hot jell-o! Hot jell-o was good for you, she said. And we had a lot of lentil soup and chicken salad sandwiches.

Kash: Why did she like lentil soup?

Snedeker: Well, she told me once that it dated from the biblical days, and that it was one of the few foods mentioned in the Bible—so it had to be good for you if it was mentioned in the Bible.

Kash: Did Lowney offer writers colony members classes in writing when you were there, or did Lowney teach you writing techniques in individual tutorials?

Snedeker: Maybe individually, not as a group. You could turn in your weekly work to her at her bungalow, and sometimes she’d ask you in discuss it, and go over it, and she’d edit it—she often wrote notes in the sidelines.

Kash: Would she offer you some other written materials on the subject of how to write?

Snedeker: I remember she gave me Tom Uzzell’s Narrative Technique Handbook. She thought a lot of that book.

Kash: Did she encourage any certain styles of writing?

Snedeker: No.

Kash: Did she suggest subject matter for your stories?

Snedeker: Just your life’s experiences—and those of other people.

Kash: What role did Jim Jones have with the Colony members?

Snedeker: I believe it was strictly financial, because he could afford it then. He was rich and famous by the time I knew him.

Kash: Had he ever involved himself with helping people with their writing projects, or did you ever have any direct contact with him?

Snedeker: I didn’t really, but I think he might have after I left the colony. I remember reading somewhere that Lowney had taught him how to teach creative writing and he had worked with Rex Bollen some on Rex’s novel, which I don’t think was ever published, but maybe it was. I’m not sure.

Kash: Did you ever attempt to get Jones’s personal help?

Snedeker: Yes, one evening I went over to his house. He was sitting up drinking martinis, smoking the usual cigarette. I asked him how he handled a flashback, and he didn’t elaborate very much, just small talk. Then I said, “OK, I’m out of here.” And he later told Lowney that I’d been over there nosing and bothering him, and she balled me out for it—the only time she ever got on me. She said: “I’m the teacher, not James Jones.” I felt so low. It just broke my heart—I’d broken her confidence.

Kash: Did nationally prominent writers visit the Colony during the time you were there?

Snedeker: No, I think in ’53 Montgomery Clift and Norman Mailer visited, but no famous people visited while I was there, other than Tom Chamales.

Kash: It’s my understanding that Tom Chamales was, like you, a member of the colony, and he sold a book after working on it in Marshall.

Snedeker: That’s right. The novel Never So Few was written by Tom. Later, a movie was made of Never So Few starring Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollabrigida.

Kash: What age of a person was Tom when you knew him, and what was his background experience before coming to the Handy Colony?

Snedeker: Well, his background experience was, he was a very handsome Greek, and a large man, black haired, big black moustache. I thought he was very handsome. He was light complexioned. He’d just been through hell and back when I met him. He had fought with Merrill’s Marauders and guerrilla forces in Burma during World War II and had seen death, misery, suffering that no human should ever have to see. I felt so sorry for him, but he was able to put that experience down on paper so perfectly. Once Lowney told me he was the only student she ever had who could turn out almost perfect chapters, whole chapters, where she’d have to do very little editing. As soon as he wrote it, his stuff was ready to go to the publisher.

Kash: Was he a friendly guy?

Snedeker: Yes.

Kash: Would Tom goof off with the other colonists—play pong, swim or whatever?

Snedeker: Yes. He was very outgoing.

Kash: I’ve heard that Lowney believed in writers and all people having enemas. Do you know how she came to believe this and did she persuade you to do it?

Snedeker: Well, one time I asked her why you do enemas. She told me that she had learned about it from some of her Far Eastern readings and teachings. She said a tribe in India had observed this stork-like bird sticking their beak up their read-ends and giving themselves enemas. These storks were long-lived—like a hundred years old. So if it worked for them, it should work for us, these Indians reasoned, and they began the practice. Apparently it worked, at least Lowney believed it did, so she encouraged students to do the enemas. I wasn’t into it, but I remember Tom Chamales once came out of the Airstream trailer where he lived, and he was huge! He looked like he had about five gallons of water in his stomach. He was holding it, walking around, jigging it like jell-o, and in about ten minutes he was back in the trailer. I guess to relieve himself.

Kash: Do you remember anybody else who used to do enemas regularly?

Snedeker: Burt Bliss—he seemed to be into it.

Kash: Any other guys?

Snedeker: No, I never observed them.

Kash: Do remember what kind of stories you wrote when you were a colony member?

Snedeker: Well, it was just about life experiences I’d had by the age of eighteen: living with my uncle, carpenter work, cutting wood out in the woods at wintertime, motorcycle riding—my Uncle Johnie introduced all of us to motorcycle riding, including James Jones. My uncle was an accomplished motorcyclist. He’s the reason James Jones bought his first Harley-Davidson. That really made Lowney unhappy when Jim bought the Harley-Davidson. He was not a good rider. Good writer, but not a good motorcycle rider.

Kash: Did Jones have motorcycle accidents?

Snedeker: No, none that I ever knew of, but I’m surprised. But, boy, he immediately bought the studded leather jacket, and the motorcycle rider’s cap, and really got into the scene.

Kash: Did you ever have a chance to ride with Jim?

Snedeker: No, never did. He let me ride his motorcycle one time, though.

Kash: How far?

Snedeker: Just around town.

Kash: Now did you remain friends with any of the people on the Colony after your experience there?

Snedeker: No. I don’t know where any of them are or I would. I probably would if I knew how to contact them. I think several of them are dead.

Kash: Why did you eventually leave the Writers’ Colony?

Snedeker: Well, when they closed for the year—they always made their seasonal close in October—Lowney sent me to her friend Helen Chezney who lived in Hollywood, Florida. I stayed with Helen a couple of months, and after a while I found a flophouse where I lived for three months. I was broke. It was the coldest winter Florida had ever had. I got a job as a busboy, which would depend on tips—no tourists, no tips. And I had to sell my motorcycle, which I had ridden down there, for a hundred dollars to get a train ticket back to Marshall. Came back to Marshall flat broke, and I had a terrible cold. Then my uncle advised I join the military. So I joined the Army for two years.

Kash: After you returned to Illinois from the army, how have you made your living throughout most of your adult life?

Snedeker: Well, my Uncle Johnie was to play just as big a role in my adult life as he had in getting me involved with the Handy Writers’ Colony. The year before I lived on the colony, he built a room edition for a wealthy family in Marshall named Murphy. I used to go and visit on the job site there just like I did at the James Jones bachelor pad, and while I was visiting I became acquainted with the Murphy’s daughter, Dee Ann, who was 15 at the time—rich, spoiled, somewhat wild, and real sexy to be around. Dee Ann’s folks were one/third owners of a large stone quarry called Quality Lime, plus a farm, which were just outside of Marshall. Dee Ann was just the kind of girl Lowney would hate—she turned me on a lot more than writing. Anyway, Dee Ann and I married while I was in the army. She came and lived with me while I was stationed in El Paso, Texas, and she got pregnant with our first son, a boy named Van—we later had another boy and a girl. After I was discharged from the service, I went to work in the office at Quality Lime. I ended up getting along a lot better with her grandfather, Van Tarble; her uncle, Martin Tarble; and her father, Dean Murphy, than I did with her. They were all nice men. I worked real hard for them, and they have taken good care of me and my family for my entire life, because when I divorced Dee Ann in ’62, I stayed on with Quality Lime. I married my wife Sue in ’64, and I have stayed married to her ever since. Dee Ann passed away in 1966. I have always said that I was one of the few men that married money, then divorced out of it.

Kash: Do you have final recollections about Lowney?

Snedeker: I loved her dazzling white smile and her dark eyes, which seemed to be a Turner trait—I knew her brothers and they had dark eyes. Lowney just loved human beings. She was prone to take in the downtrodden. And she was so articulate. I just never knew anybody like her. It’s really hard to explain about Lowney—I’ve never known anybody like her in my whole life.

Kash: Did you ever have any contact with her after you left the Colony?

Snedeker: I wrote to her a few times, but then after I got married the relationship pretty well soured—probably due to my neglecting her—and I regret that I didn’t maintain a relationship, because she died in ’64.

Kash: Did you see her again, or Jim Jones, after your time at the Colony?

Snedeker: No. No, I never did.

Kash: Looking back, what strikes you the most about your time at the Colony and being part of history?

Snedeker: Well, holy cow. I’m really proud that I did that experience. I met a lot of nice people, especially Lowney. I lived in a group setting like that, which was so unorthodox in this country. Despite all the rumors, believe me, it was not a nudist colony. And to have known famous people is pretty important to me. I’ll never ever forget it.

JJ Symposium set for November 9 at EIU

The Eastern Illinois University History Department Chair and Professor Nora Pat Small and Dean and Professor Anita Shelton have recently announced that the annual James Jones Symposium will be held at EIU on Thursday, Nov. 9 from 1-4 p.m. in Buzzard Auditorium.

Dr. James MacLeod, University of Evansville, Evansville, Indiana, will be among those presenting. He will discuss the contributions of Evansville, Indiana, to World War II in the form of construction of landing craft. He has recently published Evansville in WW II.  The city manufactured hundreds of ships, thousands of fighter planes, and billions of other materials that made a huge contribution to the Allies’ eventual victory. MacLeod’s book explains how this industry came to be in Evansville, reveals the enormous impact that it had on its social, economic and cultural life.

Student scholarships for the James Jones Fund for the Study of the Experience of War in History, Literature, Theatre, Film and Music will be selected for presentation at the symposium.


Handy Colony compilation donated to Illinois libraries and students

More than 800 copies of Writings From the Handy Writers Colony, compiled by Helen Howe, Don Sackrider and George Hendrick, were donated to 804 public libraries in Illinois in the fall of 2016. Four hundred editions of the compilation, plus a number of copies of The Merry Month of May, were also given to the Marshall Public Library, Marshall, Illinois, at the time of the Walldogs mural project and screening of the musical From Here to Eternity in June 2016. Marshall librarian Alyson Thompson reported that all 400 copies have been given away, including those to Marshall High School for the JJLS’s annual “Valentine’s” contest. 

2016 James Jones First Novel Fellowship recipient named

imgres The 24th annual James Jones First Novel Fellowship has been awarded to Alison Murphy of Boston, Mass., for her manuscript Balagan, a novel. She was awarded first place and is the recipient of $10,000. The competition is sponsored by the James Jones Literary Society and the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program.

The first runner-up was Joel Freiburger of Chicago, Ill., for his novel The Mapmaker’s Daughter. Second runner-up was Gemma Cooper-Novack of Boston, Mass., for her novel, Watch You Disappear. Each runner-up recieved $1,000.

The James Jones First Novel Fellowship was established in 1992 to “honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination, and insight into modern culture as exemplified by (the writings of) James Jones.” It is awarded to a North American author of a first novel-in-progress. This year’s competition drew 634 submissions.

First Place:

Alison Murphy is a writer and program director at GrubStreet Creative Writing Center. A lifelong military brat, her first novel, Balagan, is a product of the years she spent as a young adult living in Israel during the second intifada. She is a graduate of GrubStreet’s 2014-2015 Novel Incubator program, and her nonfiction can be found in Psychology Today, Men’s Journal, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti, among other online publications. In her spare time, she teaches creative writing to inmates in the prison system and is working on developing local creative writing programs for military veterans. 

Set at the intersection of the second intifada in Israel and the Iraq war, Murphy’s novel, Balagan, tells the story of two American students whose lives are thrown into chaos after witnessing a suicide bombing. As the consequences of the attack spiral out of control, the effects stretching from Tel Aviv to war-torn Baghdad, their relationship to each other begins to mirror the relationship between the two wars.

First Runner-up:

Joel Freiburger’s work has been honored by the Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition and the Penguin/Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Most recently, Freiburger won a 2016 SDSU Conference Choice Award for The Mapmaker’s Daughter. After graduating from the University of Chicago, King’s College London, and the University of Notre Dame with degrees in liberal arts and philosophy, Freiburger studied with Aleksandar Hemon and Elizabeth Crane while studying for his master of fine arts degree at Northwestern University. He’s been a first mate at sea, an Odysseus scholar, a teacher, and a student traveler on a 12-week Eurail trip with little more than a journal, a backpack, and some lawn-mowing money. Joel grew up in New England, and now lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

Freiburger’s novel, The Mapmaker’s daughter, is set in Estonia in the spring of 1934. When a scholarly mapmaker is killed, his daughter — Sinia Valk — plunges into Europe with the cryptic fragments of his library. She’ll contend with a genteel megalomaniac and a notorious art trafficker to find the rest of an ancient text: Homer’s lost epic, The Atlantida. As Sinia tries to sort her allies from her enemies, she crosses a postwar Mediterranean landscape, and untangles the puzzles of The Atlantida. To solve the final riddle she must join the megalomaniac who’s hunting her. They’ll form a treacherous bond with their knowledge, and retrace the story of Homer’s epic — the final voyage of Odysseus — to an island that gave rise to the myth of Atlantis.

Second Runner-up:

Gemma Cooper-Novack is a writer, arts educator, and writing coach. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in more than twenty journals, including Ballard Street Poetry Journal (Pushcart Prize nomination), Bellevue Literary Review (Pushcart Prize nomination), Cider Press Review, Hanging Loose, Santa Fe Writers Project, and Printer’s Devil Review. Gemma’s plays have been produced in Chicago, Boston, and New York, and she diablogs on She has been awarded multiple artist’s residencies from Catalonia to Virginia and a grant from the Barbara Deming Fund, and enjoys baking cookies and walking on stilts in her spare time. Her debut poetry collection We Might As Well Be Underwater will be published by Unsolicited Press in 2017.

In Cooper-Novack’s novel, Watch You Disappear, Maya Corelli has been obsessed with kidnappings ever since the year her mother left with Maya’s brother Devin. As Maya ages and faces more and greater rejection for her butch identity, she finds the stories of kidnapping more absorbing and more of an escape. When her freshman year of college begins, Maya falls passionately in love with an emotionally unstable partner, Katie, who happens to be the victim of an infamous kidnapping case. An intense, tumultuous year both in school and in Maya’s family ends with Katie’s suicide; embroiled in grief the next year, Maya is compelled to engage with the political activism of her compassionate roommate, a second fractured romance, and the return of her brother to her life.

Requests for guidelines for entering the annual James Jones competition should be sent, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, to James Jones First Novel Fellowship, c/o The Graduate Creative Writing Department, Wilkes University, 84 West South Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766, or via email to The submission deadline for entries is March 15 of each year.

Melville House to publish’13 James Jones winner

underground-fugue-grey-135x175Margot Singer’s novel, now titled Underground Fugue, the recipient of the 2013 James Jones First Novel Fellowship, will be published by Melville House in April 2017.

Underground Fugue interweaves the stories of four characters who are dislocated by shock waves of personal loss, political violence, and, ultimately, betrayal. Esther, an American recovering from the death of her adolescent son and the seeming dissolution of her marriage, moves to London to care for her dying mother; Lonia, Esther’s mother, is haunted by memories of fleeing Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II; Javad, their next-door neighbor and an Iranian neuroscientist, struggles to connect with his college-aged son; and Javad’s son, Amir, a self-defined urban explorer, seeks identity and escape from his parents’ bickering. As Esther settles into her new life in London, she becomes fascinated by her neighbors–attracted to Javad and reminded of her own son by Amir. After the 7/7 terrorist attack, Esther “betrays” Amir to the local police. But Amir is no terrorist, and ultimately Esther must confront the consequences of her actions and their connection to the story of her mother’s past.

In addition to the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, Singer has won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction, the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and an Honorable Mention for the PEN/ Hemingway Award for her story collection, The Pale Settlement. She is a professor of English at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Reflections on Jones’ WWII trilogy

By Ray Elliott, JJLS Board member and past-president

Note: This article was first published in the Robinson Daily News shortly after James Jones’ death in 1977  

Jones in Robinson, Nov. 1943     Despite Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s assurance that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” old soldier James Jones did die. Of congestive heart failure on May 9, 1977. But he refuses to fade away — yet. With the recent posthumous publication of Whistle, the final book in his World War II trilogy, he’s still hammering his realistic view of war and warfare at you like a drill instructor hammering soldiering into a raw recruit. And with much the same success.

Jones had to be a lifer, a not-so-endearing term for the career soldier. That’s about the only way to explain his lifelong love affair with the U.S Army, war and effects of war on the combat soldier. But it was a strange love affair, almost schizophrenic in nature. He loved the Army, yet he hated it. War fascinated him, yet it terrified him. The effects of war touched him deeply, made him a writer, yet they made him an outsider in general, in most literary circles specifically. Not an intellectual, no middle ground existed for him. His was a black and white world. You were either a part of his world and understood, or you weren’t a part of it and could never understand.

Enlisting in the Regular Army after graduation from Robinson High School in 1939, he spent the next five years soldiering. Five years which included being stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii before, during and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941; landing and fighting on Guadalcanal, being wounded in the head by a mortar round, returning to duty and finally being evacuated due to an old ankle injury; being shipped to an Army hospital in Memphis where he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star (without a V for Valor) that he or none of his decorated comrades wore because wearing them was “considered contemptible display”; and finally receiving a medical discharge in 1944 after being returned to limited duty. All of which was experienced along with much more, by one character or another in his war trilogy.

And that’s the trilogy, three novels which stand alone as complete and separate works that are closely related in theme and subject: James Jones’ life in the Army as a peacetime Regular Army soldier, a combat soldier and a wounded veteran returning to a society that couldn’t understand what the combat soldier had necessarily become.

Regular lifer characters only wanted to be 30-year soldiers — writing and talking about the war and the Army, telling what he saw, what he did and what he heard. Jones said in his later years, “I write about war because it’s the only métier I’ve ever had.” That’s why he wrote about it better than anyone else. And with all his writing faults (style, syntax, verbosity, irrelevant details, point-of-view aberrations) that’s the value of the trilogy. It is an accurate portrayal of a cross section of American life and history as it was.

The first book in the trilogy, From Here To Eternity, won the National Book Award in 1952 and brought him fame and fortune as the most promising novelist to come out of World War II. That was the pinnacle of his success, and he never quite lived up to his promise in subsequent books unless he wrote about war. Ernest Hemingway, a mentor of sorts, contended that Jones was a one-novel author who would live off of his Eternity reputation for the rest of his life. Perhaps. But no matter.

In Eternity, set in the peacetime Army in pre-World War II Hawaii, Jones becomes the universal soldier in a way Hemmingway never did and began the process of what Jones later called “the evolution of a soldier.” He’s Prewitt, the rebel bugler, boxer, straight-duty soldier, who loves the Army, but hates the system that takes away his individualism and honor; he’s Warden, the cynical, hard-nosed company 1st Sgt., who dislikes officers and runs the company, taking care of his enlisted men without seeming to care about them; he’s Stark, the Mess Sgt., who feeds the troops well and runs the mess hall with interference from nobody, including Warden. Regular Army men, hard drinkers, all. Undoubtedly based on real soldiers. But Jones speaks for and as James Jones, too.

As the rugged individualist, Jones broke the language barrier in literature with Eternity. Realism in literature became a reality, something Hemingway, Henry Miller and a host of other writers had failed to accomplish. Many people who had stayed on the home front filling their pockets during the war didn’t like that. But life in the Army is often frank and brutal. And if art is to mirror life, no censorship, no barriers can exist. Jones mirrored the peacetime Army, with its adventurers, bums, drifters, many escaping the Depression, and its Regular Army non-commissioned officers and officers waiting for a war to test their manhood or earn their promotions in a way he couldn’t without the realism. It’s a man’s world where the strong survive and the weak perish. Still, the writing is not particularly impressive for the greater part of the book.

But then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. It’s a Sunday morning after a night of hard drinking, fighting and making the rounds of the whorehouses — the regular weekend for a soldier. Some of the men are eating breakfast when a blast rocks the mess hall.

“He (Warden) stopped in the doorway of the KP room and looked back at the mess hall. He remembered the picture the rest of his life. It had become very quiet and everybody had stopped eating and looked at each other.

“‘Must be doin’ some dynamitin’ down to Wheeler Field,’ somebody said tentatively…

“‘This is it,’ somebody said simply.

“Warden found his eyes and Stark’s were looking into each other. There was nothing on Stark’s face, except the slack relaxed peaceful look of drunkenness, and Warden felt there must not be anything on his either. He pulled his mouth up and showed his teeth in a grin, and Stark’s face pulled his mouth in an identical grin. Their eyes were still looking at each other…

“Down the street over the trees a big column of black smoke was mushrooming up into the sky. The men behind were crowding out the door…”

The evolution of a soldier had begun in earnest. Jones’ eyes were good, his mind clear. You begin to feel the power of his writing. And for most of the next 150 pages you see how the Japanese attack must have looked to those who were there. You see the grinning, waving Japanese pilot (who Jones actually saw) strafing Schofield Barracks, the beginning of a war, the birth of a new era for the United States and all the rest just as clearly as you see the excitement of Warden and Stark about the prospect of going to war, like two young boys about to have their first sexual experience. It makes all the faulty writing, detail after detail about each character and each mundane theme worth wading through in the peacetime Army to get to the real thing. Eternity may not be Jones best book, as he maintained it wasn’t, but it’s one of the best eyewitness accounts of the peacetime Army being forced into war, and the subsequent months following the attack that you’re likely to read anywhere.

It’s Jones at his best. You can even accept the compassionate prostitute Prewitt loved and the commanding officer’s cuckolding wife who loved Warden and had loved Stark. Even Prewitt’s death is acceptable. But for the benefit of the trilogy, which Jones would have us believe was conceived shortly after he began writing Eternity, Prewitt’s death was neither necessary nor realistic, despite Jones’ assurance that it was. In the author’s note to Whistle he said, “Unfortunately the dramatic structure — I might even say the spiritual content — of the book demanded that Prewitt be killed in the end of it. The import of the book would have would have been emasculated if he did not die.”   Hogwash. That sounds more like a defense of a trilogy concept that was developed after the success of Eternity and the relative failure of non-military books. Saying the concept of the trilogy was developed then does not make it so. As Jones once said, there are very few “honest men, including myself.”

Whatever, Jones wasn’t done with the Army and needed the characters he knew so well. Killing Prewitt seems even more unrealistic because he resurrected him in the second book of the trilogy, The Thin Red Line as Whitt. This was necessary, Jones said, because he couldn’t “resurrect him, and have him there again, in the flesh, wearing his same name.” So he changed his name. He also changed Warden to Welsh, Stark to Storm, Lt. Ross, an officer in the Schofield Barracks company, to Capt. Stein. Although Jones said the name changing might sound silly now, it wasn’t then. But then he did the same thing in Whistle where Whitt (he didn’t die on Guadalcanal) becomes Prell, Welsh becomes Winch, Storm becomes Strange, and Fife from The Thin Red Line becomes Landers. What bothers you most about all this name changing is that you know the characters are the same, yet they’re not. They’re not quite the same personalities. And the evolution of a soldier doesn’t account for it, despite the marked similarities. By using the same characters, Jones could have truly shown the evolution of a soldier, utilizing the subtle and not-so-subtle psychological changes each man went through as he progressed from peacetime soldier to combat soldier to wounded veteran trying to adjust to a changed society where he didn’t feel he fit and didn’t particularly want to. The simple name changes and resulting changes in characterization cause the trilogy to suffer in a way it should not have.

In WWII, an excellent book of personal remembrances and perspective of the war, complete with the war art, Jones said, “The truth is, 35 years has glossed it all over and given World War II a polish and a glow it did not have at the time.” No question about that. But that’s not the point. The point is that Jones’ memory wasn’t as good as it was when he wrote Eternity. His own aging, maturation even, had to change his perspective of the war, his philosophy, his person concern  — the Winch character in Whistle, for example, has congestive heart failure and must learn to cope with it as Jones did.

Even if the trilogy were conceived in 1946, as Jones said, it is shame that The Thin Red Line wasn’t published until 1962, 11 years, two books — one a post Pearl Harbor attack book, The Pistol — and another war after publication of Eternity; and that Whistle, the  “big, big” book on the war, wasn’t published until 1978, 27 years, nine books — another one on World War II and one on Vietnam — and yet another war after publication of Eternity. And at the end of his career at that. Had he written the trilogy when it was timely, perhaps he would have outgrown the war, grown as a writer to where he could have handled contemporary themes and lived up to his early promise. But that’s history.

Nor does it take a way from the fact that The Thin Red Line is one of the best, if not the best, books ever written about men in combat. Published 17 years after the end of the war, Jones’ attitude seems to have matured slightly — he maintained that his books were actually antiwar in scope — from his early excitement with an adolescent view of war; if this is not totally true in the book, then it certainly is in the dedication. It’s not without a touch of irony that he dedicates the book: “This book is cheerfully dedicated to those greatest and most heroic of all human endeavors, WAR and WARFARE; may they never cease to give us the pleasure, excitement and adrenal stimulation that we need, or provide us with the heroes, the presidents and leaders, the monuments which we erect to them in the name of PEACE.”

Again, as in Eternity, Jones is the universal soldier. Only this time the honor of the individual isn’t what’s at stake. Honor doesn’t keep you alive. Survival does; survival of the individual soldier in any possible way. And survival is all that counts in combat. The glory of war quickly vanishes. You see the collective behavior of a cross section of American men forced into a situation where they have no choice except to fight; you see man at his lowest, most base level. Patriotism means no more to Jones’ combat soldiers that it did to their later counterparts in Korea or Vietnam. Only in World War II there was nowhere to go. They fought and died. And the evolution of a soldier takes the final step.

Warden, who seemed eager to go to war at the time of Pearl Harbor — he gleefully went to the barracks roof to shoot at Japanese fighter planes — isn’t quite so eager to fight as Welch on Guadalcanal. He’s still cynical and hard-nosed and takes care of his men. But “the way Welch chose to see it, he had beaten the Depression in his country and had outsmarted the nation, and now today, November 10, 1942, he was preparing to pay for it.” That sounds like a mature Jones saying, “There ain’t no free lunches, baby. You’ve had it, now pay for it.” Welch knows that war is for one thing: Property. With which he wants nothing to do. He seems almost content with his canteens full of gin; he volunteers for nothing, does his job and usually nothing more — exactly what Jones later said he did. Not much glory in that. It does make survival easier.

Only Whitt seems to be unconcerned about survival. Still the rebel, he has been transferred to another company because he is a troublemaker. But he rejoins the company to fight when he pleases and according to whether he’s under the command of someone he respects. The soldiers’ soldier, Whitt swears he’ll never return to the company when the green company commander makes a tactical error and all but two of a squad-size patrol Witt is on are killed. Shortly before the company leaves for New Georgia, however, Witt returns. His loyalty is with the company. But he’s still Prewitt, fighting for his individuality, demanding that his superiors be as competent a soldier as he is. Yet he’s a different man.

Jones’ understanding of the emotions of men in combat and his knowledge of military tactics is overwhelming. You participate, vicariously, in the strategies and battles for each hill. You feel with the men, for them. And you know what he’s articulating what thousands of combat veterans know but slowly fade from memory as the years pass, and they begin to lose the feeling of what it was like to a degree — the de-evolution of a soldier. Perhaps that’s why Jones says at the end of the novel as the survivors of C-for- Charlie — a puerile designation he uses for Charlie Company — leave the island to prepare for the New Georgia campaign: “One day one of their number would write a book about all this, but none of them would believe it because none of them would remember it that way.”

Or perhaps it’s because Jones is the universal soldier, believing that “a writer should be able to be everybody,” remembering it all. Even the old cigar-chomping doctor who treats Fife for an identical head wound that Jones received on Guadalcanal has evolved as a soldier. Fife wants to be evacuated, even though the wound isn’t serious. “Quite suddenly his (the doctor’s) smile disappeared from around the cigar butt in it. His eyes got flatter, as if some veil had fallen over them…

“Old Doc Haines stared back at him obdurately now. ‘I don’t make the rules, son,’ he said. ‘I just try to live by them.’”

Fife goes back. He has no choice. This time he learns that he too can kill. And does. Death becomes so casual that it no longer affects you. Death is a part of the brutality of war; it’s natural — as long as it’s not you own. But as Prewitt thinks in Eternity, “‘When you cut with life you had to use the house deck, not your own. ’”Combat doesn’t deal a very good hand, and Jones leaves you with no illusions that it does. Even for the survivors.

That’s particularly true in Whistle, the last book of the trilogy and the beginning of the de-evolution of the soldier, which wasn’t quite completed when Jones died. Just a little more than three chapters remained unfinished, not even written, really. But Jones dictated notes for the remaining chapters up until two days before his death with the urgency of an old soldier bent on completing his mission before dying. He still had something he wanted to say about war and wanted to etch his place in literary history with what he wrote best about. Posterity will undoubtedly grant him that in spite of his intellectual critics of today.

The final chapters were written by his friend, Willie Morris, in synopsis form. Not a very satisfactory conclusion to a lifer’s career who said in the author’s note, written in Paris in 1973 before he wrote WWII, that “It (Whistle) will say just about everything I have ever had to say, or will ever have to say, on the human condition of war and what it means to us, as against what we claim it means to us.” The “dramatic structure,” even the “Spiritual content,” may suffer because of the synopsis ending. But if you’re still interested in war, Jones still has something to say. If you’re not interested in his war, he has something to say about other ones —past, present and future. Still, it’s a very personal book, reflecting his personal concerns of today, coupled with those of long ago.

Four of the old company go to a Luxor, Tennessee, (a combination of Memphis and Nashville) Army hospital after being evacuated from New Georgia. All four have “the peculiar numbness of soul that combat caused in everybody.” Only Winch, the 1st Sgt., isn’t wounded. He has fever, hypertension and congestive heart failure. “Death,” the narrator tells you, “usually occurred from congestive heart failure in the fifties.” Jones died of it at 55. Winch quits his hard drinking. Jones quit, too. Winch drinks a glass of white wine occasionally. So did Jones. Both were two-fisted drinkers whose drinking was almost legendary. Winch still has his men to take care of in spite of his condition. Jones had a trilogy to complete. Unlike Jones, Winch doesn’t die in the end; he went mad from the terror of his combat memories.

This is not to say that Winch is Jones. Jones is still the universal soldier, the old soldier now, pouring a lifetime of study of war and warfare into his characters. Back “home” the characters in Whistle think much differently than they did in the first two books of the trilogy. Shortly after the hospital ship arrives in San Francisco, Winch goes on liberty and gets drunk (before he quits drinking). Walking through an area where “all the old duffers (were) on their soapboxes, droning out their worn-out, ancient, old-fashioned political speeches,” Winch gives one of them a five-dollar bill to borrow the soapbox.

“The concept for it was one he had had quite a while. It had occurred to him first on Guadalcanal, last year, lying up under a mortar barrage. He had developed and expanded it later, playing with it at times when he sat alone drinking, or watched from a ridge with the company commander as their overheated, mud-breathing platoons tried to advance. He had summarized the whole concept in the slogan he had worked out for it, ‘Soldiers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your guns.’ That was what he began to shout from the soapbox.

“A crowd of amused servicemen formed fairly quickly. At first they were laughing, and cheering him on, but some began to get disturbed as he went on. ’Hey, you,’ he singled out a private. ‘What are you making a month? Thirty-eight bucks, right? What do you think you’d be making if we organized, hah? No, don’t laugh. Think about it. What couldn’t we do, if we were organized? Every country needs us, right? Everybody ahs unions, why not us? Jap soldiers, German soldiers, English soldiers, US soldiers.  Russians, French, Australians. All united. We’d corner the market. Hell, we could take the explosive charges out of the mortar shells and artillery! Put white flour in them instead! How would that be? ‘ A couple of derogatory whistles came from the back of the crowd. ‘You don’t like that? Why not? No more casualties!’ Winch bellowed in his command voice. ‘You simply walk to the rear. We could have arbitration committees to decide where the battles would be held.’ He spread his arms. ‘No more jungles, right? Who’d pick a jungle?’”

A mad man speaking, perhaps. But a mad man trying to make sense out of the horror of his combat experience in a war that he knows will soon be forgotten and the countries friendly again, like little boys who become fast friends soon after a ferocious fight. He goes on to say that he’s more like a Jap or a German 1st Sgt. than he is like a civilian. Which is the problem you see each of the men coming back with him have. Prell, the Medal of Honor recipient, has taken .50 caliber machine rounds in his thighs and is fighting to save his legs. Strange has an injured hand. Landers has a smashed ankle. All are faced with the problem of adjusting to a new life where the enemy is a changed society, torn apart by war. And there are no introduction centers to help them assimilate into that society, as there were when they entered the Army and began preparing for their evolution as soldiers. You experience the agonies and frustrations each of these men has as he copes with the pain and depression from his combat experience and wounds and the shock of the world around him.

Before going mad, Winch does what he can for each of them — even though they all hate him. None of them make it. Strange finds his wife in love with an officer who did things to her sexually that Strange had never done, that he found perverted. Taking he $7,000 he and his wife were going to use to open a restaurant after the war, he throws it all away on a hotel suite, booze and women for himself and his old company. On the way to Europe after being returned to duty, he commits suicide by jumping over the side of the ship. Landers receives the discharge he thinks he wants. With it in his hand, he walks into the path of an oncoming car. Prell conquers his last battle, saves his legs only to pick a fight in a bar while on a bon-selling tour and is killed when a soldier hits him in the head with the big end of a pool cue.

The evolution of a soldier and his de-evolution are complete. Not a very pretty picture. But these are the men that fight the wars in this country, in every country. You may not like the picture Jones paints, the language he uses, but he shows you the men and the way they live while they’re off fighting the wars in the name of freedom, high ideals and moralistic philosophies conceived by people who don’t fight the wars and don’t comprehend the cost to those who do.

Critics who find fault with more than Jones’ writing (which improved through the years) have said that the only thing he found meaningful in life other than war was sex. And casual, mechanical sex at that. Perhaps. But Jones wrote about soldiers, about war and warfare. The sex, like the drinking, the fighting, the gambling, is an integral part of soldering, as real as life itself. And James Jones wrote about soldiering the way it was, is. He spent his whole life doing it, a life well spent. Perhaps he’ll fade away now, but like him or not, you’ll know he was here — if you read his war trilogy. Too bad we in society don’t learn to avoid war from the sordid picture he paints of the effects.

JJLS fellow wins Historical Novel Society’s New Novel Award

Cam Terwilliger, recipient of the 2014 First Novel Fellowship from the James Jones Literary Society recently received another award for his novel-in-progress, Yet Wilderness Grew in My Heart. The Historical Novel Society named his work winner of its New Novel Award 2015-16.

Juliet Mushens, one of the judges, said of the winning entry: ‘”The writing is beautiful – it’s incredibly evocative and lyrical. I thought that it was clever to have our narrator as an outsider too: wealthy and white, but set apart by his terrible pox. I loved the supporting characters, too, Bell was wonderfully mysterious and terrifying, and I enjoyed Beatrice very much and their relationship. I thought it captured well the early dealings between the colonists and the Native Americans.”

You can read an interview of Cam by Richard Lee of the Historical Novel Society here:

Q and A with New Novel Award winner, Cam Terwilliger


2016 JJLS Valentine Essay Contest Winners

“He had not meant, when he started the whole thing, for it to become such a big operation, such a production. But from the moment he had first stepped inside Woolworth’s with his mind made up and had gone to the candy counter and silently picked out the box, that was what it seemed to become nevertheless. And now, with it the last day before Valentine’s Day, and Woolworth’s ready to close up in just a few minutes, everything couldn’t have been worse.”

So opens “The Valentine,” a short-story by James Jones that explores the heart-breaking vulnerability of youth.

High School winners of the annual James Jones Literary Society’s “The Valentine” essay contest were recently announced by Chairperson Diane Reed. Jones’s short story tells the anguish suffered by a shy middle school boy who secretly vows to shows his love for his crush, the most popular girl in his class. After reading and discussing the story, students are asked to write an essay of at least 500 words reflecting on their reaction to it.

Congratulations to the 2016 winners from these eastern Illinois high schools :

First Place

Sydney Hoggatt, Marshall High School

Mykaela Patterson, Robinson High School

Second Place

Vance Oetjen, Marshall High School

Elaina Llewellyn, Robinson High School

Third Place

Alexandra Gower, Robinson High School

Lane Brown, Marshall High School


Above:  Winners of the Valentine contest from Marshall High School and sponsors are, are from left: Amy Gard, sponsor; Sydney Hoggatt, first place; Megan Wilkinson, honorable mention; Kai Durflinger, honorable mention; Lane Brown, third place; Vance Oetjen, second place; and Alyson Thompson, presenter on behalf of the JJLS.


Above:  Winners of the Valentine contest from Marshall High School included, from left: Garrett Blagrave, honorable mention; Alexandra Gower, third place; Mykaela Patterson, first place, and Paige Stewart, honorable mention.

Above, left, is Elaina Llewellyn, second place from Robinson High School. At right is Diane Reed, chairperson of the JJLS Valentine Essay Contest, and Mykaela Patterson, first place winner from Robinson High School.

Special screening of ‘Eternity’ musical


CHARLESTON, IL: A special screening of the new film, From Here to Eternity – The Musical, will be shown in the Doudna Fine Arts Center’s Lecture Hall on Saturday, April 23. Presented free of charge, the film will be shown at 4 p.m.  This one-time only performance is presented through special arrangement with renowned lyricist Tim Rice, and his special relationship with the James Jones Literary Society.

Based upon the James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity – The Musical is the film adaptation of a musical with music and lyrics by Tim Rice and Stuart Brayson and a book by Bill Oakes. The staged musical premiered at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End in 2013.

For those unfamiliar with Jones’ novel or Tim Rice’s adaptation, From Here to Eternity – The Musical is set in pre-war Pearl Harbor during 1941, where the girls sing “don’cha like Hawaii”, the men of G Company sing the blues, and where even on an army base, love and desire are never very far away. When main character Private Prewitt falls for the kind hearted escort club girl Lorene, and when his platoon sergeant, Warden, embarks on a dangerous affair with his commanding officer’s wife, the lives of both men are set on a course they cannot control. As war approaches, the worlds of the four lovers and the soldiers of G Company are dramatically ripped apart.

The production is full of interesting characters and fabulous dance scenes. Critics are hailing the adaptation as ‘everything you want from a musical’ (Hollywood News) and one critic from London’s Radio 4, Saturday Review exclaiming ‘the best new score I’ve heard in London for a very long time.’

From Here to Eternity was the debut novel of Robinson, Illinois native James Jones. Published in 1951 it is considered one of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library Board. The book was later made into an Academy Award-winning film starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra.

The Doudna Fine Arts Center’s one-time only presentation of From Here to Eternity – The Musical is presented free of charge. No tickets are required but seating in the Doudna Lecture Hall is limited. EIU’s English and History departments, the College of Arts and Humanities, The Doudna Fine Arts Center, and the James Jones Literary Society sponsor the performance.

The Doudna Fine Arts Center is located at 1860 South 7th Street in Charleston on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. Convenient free parking is located near the fine arts center. To arrange accommodations for those needing special assistance, contact Doudna Fine Arts Patron Services at 217-581-3110

Looking back at James Jones

By Lawrence Garber

In Viet Journal, the second-to-last work James Jones published before his death in 1977 at age fifty-five, there is recorded one of the most poignant moments in modern American literature. Poignant, that is, for Jonesians everywhere. On his way home from a writing assignment in Viet Nam where he witness the final phase of U.S. involvement there — an old soldier assessing a new kind of war — Jones made an unplanned stop in Hawaii. It was late March, 1973, thirty-one years since he had last seen these islands as an infantryman at Schofield barracks, twenty-two years since he had made claim to them as his own mythical territory in From Here to Eternity. He was nearing fifty-two, already beginning his slow death of congestive heart failure, a craggy, middle-aged ruin of the fierce cock-of-the-walk he had once been; and this was his nostos, a return of Odyssean magnitude to the one spiritual home that had permanently scored his consciousness (an ours) that had made all his literature possible, that had set his attitudes for life.
cms_visual_39708It is not given to many to have such a place to return to, one that resonates so clearly and painfully with a sense of genesis, and Jones records the compulsion to re-enter his past as if under the sway of siren-songs: “I had not been in Viet Nam more than a week, before I knew I was going to do it. And once I had made up my mind, it seemed I had known all along that I would go. That I could not not go. A sounding of Recall. The song ‘Jamaican Farewell’ was much in my mind…” In The White Album, Joan Didion has written that Hawaii belongs to Jones in the same way that Kilimanjaro belongs to Hemingway and Oxford, Mississippi, to Faulkner; places not only of sources but of recapitulations, terrains for discovering where we have gone because we have never quite left them. In Honolulu, on Waikiki, at Schofield barracks, Jones retraced his steps, seeing out what remained of his youth, “a certain twenty-two-year-old boy, walking along Kalakaua Avenue in a ‘gook’ shirt.” It was something akin to the seven stations of the cross of for the man who had written the finest army novel in the language while still in his twenties: the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (preserve of the officers), the New Senator Hotel (where Lorene in Eternity had worked as a prostitute), Wu Fat’s Chinese restaurant (where Maggio had gone off guard duty and into the stockade), the Waialae Golf Coruse (where Prewitt had been killed trying to return to his unit), the Post Library where Jones himself had first read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and knew instantly that he had been a writer all his life without having yet written a word. One has to understand that Jones’s return at fifty-two to the setting of his first novel was a return for all of us who had been moved and turned by the great work: a kind of communal nostos for a generation that had discovered in Jones the perfect voice of revolt and conscience.

But during the tour, Jones was disturbed, too, by all the things that had changed of the world he had known and understood and a profound sense of futility and loss shades his account. Something to do as well with the scorched veteran of life he had become, with the personal and literary wars he had fought and lost and drawn since the heady days of his first success. Then, on the day of his departure, the climatic moment: that morning he drove out to Makapuu Head, for “something kept telling me I shouldn’t miss Makapuu.” One the way there, Jones became increasingly depressed as he saw how the landscape had altered, the farms and cattle ranges gone, the bulldozers and earthmoving equipment at work extending the Lunalilo Freeway. It had been at Makapuu Point in November of 1941 — a month before the Japaneses attack on Pearl Harbour — that Jones’s F Company had dug five pill-boxes into the cliff rocks, and now, suddenly, as Jones got closer, “the constantly starting and stopping cars…seemed no longer to be there…A curtain had dropped behind me, cutting me off from them, and with a kind of frightened, awed wonder I stood looking at a scene that had not changed one glass blade since I had last looked at it thirty years before.” Then a further miracle of sorts happened and Jones was not only merely encountering the landscape of his past but, for a brief awesome moment, reliving it as the young man he had once been:

My feet started carrying me up the complex of faded paths as surely as thought they knew the way before my eyes did…. They were all there. All five of them. I stood in each of them a long time, looking out and remembering times when late at night I had sat behind machine-guns in all of them, staring out into the dark toward Rabbit Island and the beach that faced it. When I came up out of the last one and started back down, I looked down and automatically placed my foot on a natural step in the rock that we had always sued to climb in or out. I was still there, unchanged, uneroded, unchipped. An my foot still knew where it was. I stood staring down at it for several seconds, shocked, and when I looked back up and looked down the hill at the tourists and the clustered cars, it was as if I were back in 1942, when the overlook was empty, peering forward into an unforeseeable future when it would be open and crowded with sightseers, as it was now. The only thing that was different was that I was alone, that there was nobody with me.

But Jones wasn’t alone. As one of the millions of readers who had read From Here to Eternity in the fifties and thrilled to its realistic depiction of the peacetime army and the tragic rituals of honour and comradeship, and as one of the considerably fewer who held onto the faith over the years that Jones was unique, an American original, whose gifts were instinctive rather than learned (like a Joe Louis, a Rocky Marciano), I like to think that Jones’s lonely nostos was a shareable thing, that he had built a spiritual landscape in his work of textured and tactile that it could be inhabited permanently like all the great houses of fiction. The real estate of Elysium. Many would disagree, and I must admit that my own perspective on Jones and his accomplishments has long ago passed beyond the critical and into something resembling a personal graph. In the way of an unofficial apostle, I tend to see all of his many flaws and complexes and limitations as the weaves in a larger, bolder tapestry. Certainly, after the great success of Eternity, his reputation suffered considerably (the price for writing an early great novel must always be paid in America, Jones himself knew); from Some Came Running  onwards, critical perceptions of his work were variously lukewarm and cruel, and eventually dismissive. The point has always been, thought, that either Jones’s impact on his readers was immediate and personal, or not at all. It has to do with the kind of writer he was, digging directly into his own sounds for material, making absolutely no attempt to compromise or camouflage his own obsessions, never playing it safe. That, above all else, is why he appealed so powerfully to me and a whole generation still in their teens when From Here to Eternity appeared in 1951. Even then, at the height of his early fame, a winner of the National Book Award, the last author to be edited by Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, growing rich, there were those who thought his world view as basically adolescent, filled with half-baked philosophies, narrow macho codes and the residues of his own sexual frustration. The truth was that at the deepest psychological level he had tapped into the fundamental crisis of untried youth and the response, particularly of my generation, had been profound and overwhelming. No other novel of the time was more fantasized over than this one.

I can remember bothering my father to drive me down to Coles bookstore at Yonge and Charles in downtown Toronto when I was fourteen to buy a copy of the first paperback printing of From Here of Eternity with its famous black-and-red bugle cover. I knew that they would not have sold me, over the counter, this hesitating, skinny kid with brushcut and glasses, such a sizzling work, and my father had to go in to buy it for me. I can still to this day still inhale the smell of that fresh Signet pulp paper, like the scent of oil on leather. I remember the following summer when I first tired my hand at a novel, a fifteen-year-old’s version of Jones’s epic, sitting in our backyard on Rostrevor Raod, writing in longhand on long yellow sheets an army novel called The Boovermak Episode, which ran to three hundred pathetic pages and managed to recycle every relationship, incident and tragic nuance of the original. I remember that when I first went to Paris in 1962 I would gravitate regularly to the Ile St. Louis where Jones and his family lived in a remarkable apartment at 10 Quai d’Orleans overlooking the Seine; circling the area, I would sometimes linger in the narrow rue Budé in front of the heavy entrance doors wondering if I would ever muster the courage to push the buzzer and pay my respects. I never did, though Jones was known to be a notoriously easy touch and extraordinarily generous to people like myself, aspiring young writers without credentials. I became an habituté of Shakespeare and Company, an untidy little bookstore across the river because I knew that Jones sometimes dropped around to scour the shelves or attend cocktail parties in the upstairs quarters. George Whitman, an American, who still runs it, was equally generous to young people going for broke in the land of Hemingway; there was free coffee on a hot plate upstairs, chairs and sofas for reading, corners for down-and-outers to sleep in overnight; if you re-shelved a book with your bookmark still in place George wouldn’t sell it until you had finished. The sort of place Jones would’ve liked, unpretentious, fundamental, open-ended. I met him there one afternoon, at last, as he browsed along the narrow corridors of shelves. He was square-bodied, lantern-jawed, fierce-looking; not a big man but he gave the impression of compacted power that went all the way to his eyes. I managed to push out something, half-greeting, half-tribute, and he nodded, and that was it,sadly. And I remembered an hour’s conversation with Mary McCarthy in London, Ontario, a few years after his death, when she spoke of his problems as a writer and virtues as a man. I ought to have paid him a call in Paris, she said; he was good at that sort of thing. Strangers who buzzed him up from the rue Budé often stayed for dinner.

After the terrific impact I had experienced with From Here to Eternity, I took to following his career as closely as I have any writer’s. At the broadcast publicity level, that wasn’t difficult since Jones was perhaps the first post-World War II writer to achieve international celebrity, to sign blockbuster multi-deal contracts, to leave live out the dream of the rich and famous American artists living in Europe, wintering in Klosters, Switzerland, scuba-diving in Greece and the Bahamas, establishing at his residence in Paris a gathering place for expatriates where the weekly Saturday evening parties were legendary. He was regarded as a cultural phenomenon by the media right from the start, good copy this heartland American ex-soldier boy who marched brashly into Max Perkins’s office at Scribner’s, carrying his manuscript in a box, demanding attention; who had written the most exciting novel of the decade while crossing America in a trailer; who kept a vast collections of guns and knives and knew how to use them; who boxed for real, and was photographed by Life in his fencing outfit, daring the fates to take him on. Norman Mailer called him the most naturally gifted author of his generation, Ed Murrow interviewed him on “Person to Person,” and the somewhat misleading myth of the noble savage who had seized his moment and confounded the establishment began. It was a trap that extent of which Jones only realized later, but it was the sort of story — helped along at the time by Jones himself — that proved as fascinating to the public as the big novel he had produced.

And, of course, every subsequent book he wrote I bought and devoured, even when the reviews ran thin and wicked: the 1,266-page Some Came Running (1957),the most exhaustive study of mid-western America in the language; the jewel-precision war novella, The Pistol (1959); the scuba-diving study of masculinity and its illusions, Go to the Widow-Maker (1967); the short-story collection, The Ice Cream Headache (1968), containing some pre-Eternity material that dealt with the pain of coming of age in the middle of American; his misfiring novel built around the Paris student revolution of 1968, The Merry Month of May (1971); his gutsy excursion into the hard-boiled detective genre à la Chandler and Hammett, A Touch of Danger (1973) and WWII (1975), the latter an informal history of the war ostensibly written to accompany reproductions of war art but containing perhaps the best account of the Pacific theatre from the combat soldier’s point of view. Most of all, there was the war trilogy, the first and final books of which enveloped his career and defined his life. Eleven years after From Here to Eternity came The Thin Red Line (1962), considered to be the best combat novel since The Red Badge of Courage, and then the last book of the trilogy, so long delayed, that he was so desperately working on at this death, Whistle (1978), published posthumously, its final sections dictated on his deathbed. Fearing not death so much as not finishing.

But there was a lot I didn’t know about Jones that anyone interested in the significance of his life and work would want to know. Frank MacShane’s biography, Into Eternity — the first full biography — gives a needed shape and scope to the life and measures the man and the oeuvre in a way which makes no larger claims than his achievements justify or that Jones himself would have wanted. “The Life of James Jones, American Writer” is the subtitle of MacShane’s book, and it is in Jones’s quintessential Americanness, in his roots and in the curve of his career, that MacShane finds his theme:

James Jones story is American to the bone…[There was an] almost mythic quality [to] his rise from obscurity…He had appeared like a comet from the heart of America, and he wrote with a directness and a truthfulness that recalled such distinctly American writers as Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. No one before had quite expressed Jones’s vision of American as a country of people torn between optimism and cynicism…Jones felt the naked and desperate energy this fundamental schism created in American life, and he was therefore able to evoke a response in his readers that few of his contemporaries could match…A man with the most ordinary of names, he was interested in the most ordinary of people…The intimacy of the provincial world in which he grew up made him see how intensely emotional human relations really are.

Yet while in a large part MacShane’s biography is a tribute to the kind of man and writer Jones was, it is by no means a panegyric; if Jones was a diamond-in-the-rough, a forceful, compelling literary jock, his character was nevertheless deeply flawed. He was obstinate and crude, fascinated with violence, obsessed with the reaches of his own masculinity, individualistic to the point of dismissing most received wisdom on principle, irretrievably suspicious of intellectuals and of all forms of political activism (one cause of his falling out with Mailer), a drinker, a fighter, a bully, scornful of writers like Proust, Lawrence or James whom he considered “effete” and corruptive (his favorites were Kipling and Conrad), and mistrustful of women (me married at thirty-six, before which he preferred the uncomplicated company of prostitutes). MacShane’s ordering of his materials demonstrates not only how Jones combatted and struggled thought these warps and limitations in his personal life, but how, at the bravest level of self-awareness, he utilized them as an integral part of his work. Indeed, Jones is frequently depicted as a classically fissured personality, a textbook American paradox in whom toughness and generosity, sentiment and cynicism, conservatism and rebelliousness, compromise and integrity operated in uneasy, troubling relationship. No one was more personally respected and admired among his contemporaries than Jones, a man of deep emotional attachments and loyalties, of roisterous charm and genuineness; yet his volatile nature also rendered him unpredictable and capable at times of surprising meanness and impatience. Jones’s personality was in this way a battleground, an explosive field of shifting contrary pulls: a war within that permitted him to understand so well those other wars he fought as soldier and author. The appeal of such explosiveness and self-division to a generation born into blandness is obvious. Equally appealing is that throughout his career Jones attempted to resolve this fissure by creating in his books two central figures who could represent his own disturbing two-sidedness: Robert E. Lee Prewitt and Milt Warden, Dave Hirsh and ‘Bama Dillert, Jonathan Hartley and Harry Gallagher — idealists and cynics, rebels and compromisers. Jones even resurrected his three major figures from Eternity (Prewitt, Warden, Stark) and made them principals (under new names) in his other trilogy novels in order to trace their development and, by implication, his own in terms of the conflicts that had shaped his life. MacShane views this as an imaginatively creative act, a refusal to let go of the demons; and it is certainly true that few writers have been as scrupulous in confronting the big existential issues on the one hand and the narrow psychic debilities on the other that make humans perform as compulsively as they do.

MacShane’s treatment of Jones goes some way towards solving various puzzles that have always mystified me concerning his entrenched attitudes. Why are Jones’s fictional women, for instance, so unfinished as characters compared to the intensity and depth of his male figures? A soldier’s world, of course, is a predominately male realm, but even in his “civilian” novels like Some Came Running or The Merry Month of May women are dealt with in remarkably stereotypical terms, often as insidious Circe figures, endangering masculine honour and integrity, The facts of Jones’s background and rearing explains a lot here. He was born on November 6, 1921, in Robinson, Illinois, to parents already in their mid-thirties. As a boy he was neither as large nor as athletic as his older brother Jeff, had weak eyes, wore glasses, failed at organized sports and possess small hands; he “quickly found that the best defense was to be aggressive and he began to abandon his natural gentleness for a more aggressive attitude.” Out of frustration and anger, he became a rebellious figure at school where “he was unpopular with his classmates….because he always compared unfavorably with his brother,” a naturally gifted athlete. The cult of masculinity that pervades his early work can be seen to have its origins here, in his need to provide his strength of character, and to turn his essential loneliness and sense of inadequacy into a principle of independence. His relationship to his mother is another key to his attitudes regarding women and sexuality, for one of Jones’s greatest themes revolved around the notion of American sexual maladjustment. She was tough on him from the first and he disliked her intensely. In a letter to his brother in 1967, he remembered her as “totally selfish, totally self-centered, and totally whining and full of self-pity…she was also basically stupid.” MacShane writes that “in later years, Jones went out of his way to make sure he did not emulate her in any way and occasionally blamed her for shortcomings in his own life. Undoubtedly she affected his attitude towards women, making him cautious and mistrustful.” When he was dying of congestive heart failure (she had died of the same disease in 1941), he went so far as to curse her memory for having willed him what he considered to be a hereditary weakness. Her influence on his sexual attitudes was even more direct:

One day, discovering that he was masturbating, she told him that if he continued to do so, his hand would turn black. For a while he stopped, but as the fear of his hand turning black receded, he started again. After discovering him in the act one night, his mother waited until he fell asleep and then went into his room and rubbed black shoe polish into the palm of his hand.

It is a curious thing, though, that however much he found commitment to women difficult, they tended to direct his life in powerful ways. The second important women whose influence shaped his attitudes was Lowney Handy, a figure who is one of the more bizarre minor footnotes in the history of American literature, and out of whose character Jones later drew a devastating portrait in Go to the Widow-Maker. Also, a resident of Robinson, Illinois, she was forty years old, seventeen years Jones’s senior, when he moved in with her and her husband following his discharge from the army. Lowney saw in Jones the makings of a great writer and herself as a kind of midwife to literature whose essential task was to provide the proper atmosphere and training for her proteges, of which Jones was the first. She became his mistress, apparently with her husband’s approval, not so much out of love or even promiscuity, but as “a charitable act,” servicing Jones’s sexual needs so that he could give his full attention to his writing. This was typical of Lowney’s views regarding the creative imagination and she was, in every way, a woman of fixed, dogmatic ideas concerning art,  sex, philosophy. Her plan from the beginning was to develop Jones as a person “so that he would be capable of writing the novel she sensed was in him, struggling to get out.” She was self-taught, attracted to the individualism of the American transcendentalists, convinced that only the most spartan regimens  could push an artists into producing a great work. For fifteen years she dominated Jones’s life and thinking, taught him how to overcome and re-channel personal bitterness and private anger, and managed to transform his earlier “adolescent” yearning for an ideal woman’s love into something pragmatic and cynical: “Under Lowney’s tutelage, he lost his former yearning for a woman to love, and now looked upon sex simply as a biological urge that needed occasional tending.” Women, love, marriage, were the enemies of artistic freedom, she counselled, entrapments that diminished male energy, sapped and distracted from creative power.

After the enormous success of Eternity, Jones helped Lowney found her famous “Colony,” a barracks-like compound in Marshall, Illinois, where aspiring young writers were made to live in austere minimal conditions, follow her instructions to the letter and go through a form of physical and mental training devised to release their fundamental masculine nature (belching, farting and coarse language at the table was encouraged). The Colony and its rules became legendary and Life magazine did a nine-page spread — called “James Jones and His Angel” — on the experiment. It was run on Spartan principles reminiscent of the army:: there was a special diet for colonists based on Lowney’s study of Yoga, 6:30 a.m. rising, lights out at 8 p.m., no newspapers or radio, no women members or female visitors, physical labor in the afternoon, exercises in copying out word for word the published works of masters like Hemingway, Faulkner and Jones himself (a practice based on Lowney’s theory of “osmosis”), and fifty dollars a month for a trip to the whores in Terre Haute. This “literary boot camp” was intended to purge the colonists of ego,  to develop the discipline and self-knowledge necessary to write important work which meant, Lowney preached, ridding themselves of all external relationships and ambition. She encourages her young men to renounce family, marriage and emotional relations and all “sissyfying” Proustian impulses were discouraged by the threat of instant expulsion. .Jones was, of course, cock of the walk at the Colony, absolved from many strictures, and at the center of a world he could control. Eternity was, naturally, the model all colonists aspired to. But gradually even he began to realize Lowney’s limitations and the limited life that was offered there — a perverse extension of the regimentations of the Schofield barracks — an escape from the sort of emotional responsibilities that came with fuller, freer relationships he had been schooled to mistrust. And for all Lowney’s messianic zeal, history will record that not a single significant novel ever came out of the Colony; only Tom Chamales’ Never So Few is remembered at all.

Jones’s escape from Lowney’s domination was one of those difficult, bloody breakouts that characterized most of his choices; but the woman who replaced her, actress Gloria Mosolino, whom he married in 1957, gave a domestic and social order to his life that broke the pattern of barracks regimentation he compulsively maintained since his army days in Hawaii. Gloria was a beauty (she had been a stand-in for Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Seven Year Itch) from a slightly shady Mafia family in Pottsville, Pennsylvania; she was stubborn and strong in the Jones mold, a party-girl and a gambler, and there is something of Bogart and Bacall in the fireworks they generated in their first years together. That marriage brought out new and surprising aspects of Jones; it certainly game him a healthier perspective concerning his own masculinity, muted the violent streak in him, and established him at the center of a more stable circle than he had ever known. Paris became their home for seventeen years where Jones discovered himself playing mentor and pater familias  to countless expatriate Americans passing through. And because of his own unstable childhood and lack of strong bonds with his parents (his father had committed suicide when Jones was in the army), he was determined to provide a settled, happy environment for his own two children, Kaylie and Jaimie. In this phase of his life, grounded in a kind of island domesticity, Jones was able to pushed beyond the sacrosanct rituals of male boning in his work and in Go to the Widow-Maker, his fourth novel, he could take an ironic and even comical view of those macho codes and anxieties that had been so deeply embedded in the sweats of Eternity.

But as MacShane’s skilled deployment of his materials shows, Jones, for all the powerful women in his life, had been shaped by the army and it never left him. His work ethic and discipline were impressive; the collection of knives and guns was oiled and tended with the fastidiousness of a man who still needed to believe that his survival depended on them; the Friday evening poker games that eventually replaced the Saturday night parties at 10 Quai D’Orleans were boisterous and risky and in them was something of the gambling pits that he had  known in Honolulu and at Schofield barracks. Yet if he had been shaped by war, he also knew how to revise the experience, how to give heroism another name. He had won the Purple Heart at Guadalcanal but he had never been under any illusions about the nature of courage. A Japaneses soldier he had bayonetted to death had caught him unawares defecating in the jungle and their grapplings had a dark gallows humor to it; the “wound” that brought him home in the middle of the Pacific campaign was a bad ankle suffered during a football game scrimmage; his discharge from the army in 1944 had been prompted by a series of psychiatric reports that found him mentally unfit for further combat. Like Stephen Crane before him, Jones was determined to be absolutely authentic in his report of similar men in extremis, to see fear and hopelessness as the twin dynamos that propelled millions of infantrymen through the shadow of the valley. The interwoven subtitle to WWII is “Evolution of a Soldier,” and Jones’s war novels can themselves be seen to evolve from prelude (Eternity) to combat (The Thin Red Line) to aftermath (Whistle). In each case, heroism suffers a further diminishment from its customary meaning. It is a cynical view that less and less romanticizes its own sense of grief; and in the final pages of that last novel at the end of his life, the recycled version of Prewitt, Warden, Fife and Stark find no way out of their misfit states except through suicide and madness.

MacShane offers a further surprise to those (myself included) who always viewed Jones as a primitive operating on gut instinct for the authentic in human relationships. It had long been a cherished belief of mine that Jones was a natural in every sense, that even his trademark stylistic awkwardness was somehow a confirmation of the instinctive straight-shooter I conceived him as being. It turns out, however, that Jones’s conscious literary ambitions were much higher than most gave him credit for. In preparing for From Here to Eternity, for instance, he steeped himself in Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stendhl’s The Charterhouse of Parma, turning to epic models where the army itself had served as a microcosm of society. “He was eager to render the modern army as they [these authors] had rendered the armies of the preceding century. He knew that in the modern age military conflict had to be presented in modern terms, but he wanted to preserve the scale of the great nineteenth-century novels to which he hoped it would be compared.” He also experimented with language in Eternity, dispensing with apostrophes to get closer to the spoken language “where punctuation marks don’t exist;” and he deliberately devised an ungrammatically awkward prose to reflect the characters of his men and the world they inhabited, “to achieve a rhythm that would carry the emotional burden of what he was saying.”

Jones’s literary ambitions were certainly never small; only Thomas Wolfe before him in this century had possessed such an epic impulse for the grand, sweeping view. In Some Came Running, Jones claimed that he wanted “to do for the great American myth and illusion of romantic love what Cervantes did for the myth and illusion of chivalry.” When he finished that work, he posed for Life magazine with his twenty-three-hundred manuscript pages: “It was more than two feet thick and Jones could barely hold it.” From Jones the epic vision had to be made a tactile thing, dependent as much on literal weightiness as on great designs. Jones called this work his most misunderstood; no work by an author has ever received more vicious reviews. Yet Running is technically his most adventurous novel. Who would have guessed, for instance, that Jones had been influenced by the impressionist experiments of Flaubert and Ford Madox Ford? Yet Jones attempted to work a variation of le style indirect libre into his narratorial strategies in Running, using devices “intended to break down the barrier that traditionally exists between the language of the narrator and the language of the characters.” He believed that the abrupt change between colloquial dialogue and formal narrative was jolting, [and] he tried to reproduce in storytelling the quasi-grammatical circumlocutions he thought typical of midwestern speech and thought.” MacShane ranks Some Came Running — despite its structural flaws and tonal inconsistencies — with the work of Anderson, Wolfe and Steinbeck in portraying “the feelings and beliefs of a hitherto unrecorded segment of the American population…allowed to speak with an honesty and directness” uncommon in literature. In fact, every novel that Jones wrote was carefully conceived at the most erudite levels. The Thin Red Line, a combat novel modeled partly on Stendahl and partly on the Battle of Borodino section of War and Peace, was “meant to go further than either of those books in emphasizing the absurdity of war while concentrating on the personal side of combat and on enlisted men rather than officers.” To capture that personal side, Jones developed a another special narrative technique: “The story is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator; but without breaking the rhythm of the narrative, Jones switches into the head of an individual soldier so that the reader has simultaneously an overview of what is happening.” Jones as  Joycean? The notion is mind-boggling, yet he is revealed as a disciplined craftsman throughout his writing life, charged with the sense of literary tradition, pushing himself into difficult technical ranges, later influenced by the theories of Robert Ardrey and Tielhard de Chardin whose ideas he approached with a freshness and even a naivete inherent in his larger suspicions of all doctrinaire systems.

As in many an American fable, he came home to America to die… In 1974, he accepted an appointment at the Florida International University (Miami) as part-time visiting professor in creative writing. At a salary of $27,500 (for a writer who averaged between $160,000 and 200,000 a year) he conducted seminars and offered pithy, epigrammatic advice:

Show me the sympathetic insurance man. Everybody suffers.

The key is to catch the main character on the cusp of change.

Keep your first drafts.

A lot of American girls have built-in chaperons.

Jones’s decision to return to America was partly the result of having felt himself to have been a tourist in France for seventeen years; he had never learned the language properly, had had little to do with French literary circles (he considered the nouvelle vague creatively bankrupt), never troubled to understand the complex nuances of French society, and eventually saw “how artificial his relationship to France had been.” Such cultural loneliness has been self-induced, of course; he loved Paris as a city and the life-style it could offer him, but like many Americans living in Europe, he worked around the culture that was not his own, preferring the role of un-involved witness which is another form of freedom. Eventually, though, that sense of distance — which had produced The Merry Month of May — made him anxious to re-enter the American experience which had seeded his finest work, and after Florida, Jones and family settle in a farmhouse in Sagaponack, Long Island, where the race to finish Whistle was almost won.

He died at 7:45 p.m., May 9, 1977. All those who had been weaned on his fiction took the loss badly.The novel that we knew he had long planned on the gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt would never be written,. At the funeral service, old friends like William Styron and Irwin Shaw and Willie Morris delivered moving eulogies. The most highly regarded bugler in the army — arranged by Senator Edward Kennedy — played taps. It had been a brave death; alert and working on Whistle almost to the very end, he had sat on the edge of his hospital bed with tubes attached to his body, knowing that his heart could fail at any moment, dictating to Willie Morris in a faint voice the ends he had planned for those other soldiers, Prewitt, Warden, Stark, he understood so well. Dying himself and swiftly, he guided them into death with him.

There is an anecdote which touches nicely on what Jones means to me. It occurs about two-thirds of the way through MacShane’s masterly biography. In Paris,

After a quarrel in the car that made Jones walk away and leave Gloria to drive home alone, she became so flustered that she couldn’t get the motor to start. When a policeman arrived, she explained the situation by saying “Mon mari est en chaleur.” [My husband is hot.] Surprised, the policeman helped to get the car started and said, “Madame, you are very fortunate. I advise you to hurry home at once.”

There is a great deal of truth in that malapropism for Jones was always a writer in heat, never letting up on the intensity with which he confronted the big issues, never retreating from the larger questions a writer can ask. If he lacked the smoother skills of his immediate contemporaries, the daring political consciousness of Mailer, the narrative controls of Styron, the stylistic graces of Capote or Mathiessen, there was still a genuineness, a largess, a particular rage to his work that made him an American original. What Thomas Wolfe had been for Jones, Jones became for much of the generation growing up in the fifties.

I definitely should have pushed that buzzer in the rue Budé.

Lawrence Garber, Ph.D., is a retired from the  faculty of the University of Western Ontario, however he continues to teach there part-time and is a recipient of the Angela Armitt Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part-Time Faculty. He is the author of several works of fiction including Sirens and Graces (Stoddart, 1983) and Visions Before Midnight (Penguin Canada, 1980).

Reprinted with permission from Lawrence Garber. This essay appeared in The Brick Reader (Coach House Press, 1991).