James Jones often said that what a writer does is he fools with the facts. In his second novel, Some Came Running, inspired by his hometown of Robinson, Illinois, Jones shines a light into the dark undercurrent of hypocrisy and religious bigotry in the fictional town of Parkman, Ill. And, in doing so, he angered many people in Robinson. He fooled with their facts. To this day, what remains of the old guard, at the mere mention of Some Came Running, still turn up their noses and purse their lips. I imagine dinner conversations at the country club in which the name “James Jones” is whispered, as Midwesterners tend to do when uncomfortable, like saying cancer or homosexual. I am a Midwesterner. I understand them. I know my people.
I met Kaylie Jones, the daughter of James Jones, in March of 2010 at Books and Books in Coral Gables, Florida, during her book tour for Lies My Mother Never Told Me. I told her I was born and raised in Vincennes, Indiana, just across the Wabash River from Robinson, that my family had been in the restaurant business in my hometown for over a half-century. I told her my story. “Nothing has changed in almost 60 years,” she said. “My father wrote about the same thing.” She advised me to read Some Came Running.
My novel, Some Go Hungry, which comes out May 3, 2016, is an extension of the same hypocrisy and religious bigotry Jones wrote about so long ago. A young man perceived to be gay is murdered; his body disposed of in a farm field drainage ditch—his hometown apathetic. It was just a gay guy they seemed to say. Twenty years after the murder, a restaurant family finds itself embroiled in a similar battle, not of their making, with a youth pastor at the local fundamentalist church.
I, too, fooled with the facts. In Some Go Hungry the fictional community of Fort Sackville, IN, shares the same sort of soil, the same puritan code as Parkman, Ill. And I’m certain, just like James Jones, in some hometown circles my name will also be whispered. There is something about shedding light on hypocrisy and religious bigotry that still angers a great many people. But I am honored to be in Jones’ company, and if it weren’t for him and his daughter Kaylie, we might all still be sitting in the dark.
J. Patrick Redmond was born and raised in southern Indiana and recently returned to his home state after sixteen years of living in South Florida. He has an MFA in creative writing and literature from Stony Brook University in Southampton, New York. He is a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post, and his writing has appeared in the NOH8 Campaign blog, the Southampton Review, and in the Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic. He is also the 2012 recipient of the Deborah Hecht Memorial Prize in Fiction. Some Go Hungry (Kaylie Jones Books, 2016) is his first novel.
Some Go Hungry, an e-first book also available in paperback, will be available in May 2016 from Akashic Books, Amazon and at independent book stores.
Dr. Hendrick is a retired University of Illinois English professor and department chair who served as the first president of the James Jones Literary Society. He has edited two books regarding Jones: To Reach Eternity: The Letters of James Jones and To the End of the War.
Wounded on Guadalcanal in January 1943 and suffering from an injured ankle, the psychologically distressed James Jones (1921-1977) was sent to a hospital near Memphis, Tennessee. Once able to move about, Jones was given passes to go into Memphis. He took a suite of rooms in the Peabody Hotel, where there was non-stop drinking and casual sex. Jones soon grew tired of the sexual scene but his heavy drinking continued. He felt guilty about being alive when many of his comrades were dead on Guadalcanal. He feared his luck had run out, that he would be found fit for duty and be sent to England in anticipation of D-day. He was angry, filled with rage, and deeply depressed. He was not receiving any psychological help for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Examined again, he was declared to be fit for duty. Because of his psychological state and his weak ankle, he had expected to be discharged. His reaction was to get drunk. He appealed for a reexamination, and this time he was classified as fit for noncombat duty. When his orders came in November 1943, he was assigned to the combat unit 26th Division, K Company, 101st Infantry Regiment preparing to be sent to England and then the invasion of France.
Angry and rejected, James went over the hill, taking an overnight train to Robinson, making his first visit since 1939. He stayed with his Uncle Charles and Charles’ wife Sadie. James Jones was obnoxious and drunk most of the time. Charles Jones believed that his drunken nephew was besmirching the Jones family name, just as the suicide of James Jones’s father, Dr. Ramon Jones, had dishonored the family. Aunt Sadie, afraid the two men would quarrel, decided to seek help for her nephew from Lowney Handy, an unofficial social worker in Robinson, who helpg pregnant girls, the down-and-out and troubled soldiers.
Married to Harry Handy, superintendent of the oil refinery there, Lowney was an unconventional free spirit who was interested in the Hindu religion, Theosophy and its founder, Mme. Helena Blavatsky, an occultist and spiritual medium. Sadie told Lowney, an unpublished writer, that Jones “thinks he wants to write.” Lowney agreed to see him.
Lowney described that meeting: “You should have seen him then. He swaggered; he wore dark glasses; he even asked me to read his poetry aloud. He had obviously come over for a free drink. Then he saw my books.” Lowney continued, “He flipped through them and plopped them back as if he were gulping down what they had in them.” Lost in the books, “The chip on the shoulder is gone,” Lowney said. “The poor guy. The poor lost guy.”
Jones’s poetry convinced Lowney, known for making quick decisions, that he was going to be a great writer. She would be a Pygmalion, helping him chisel his success. She would help him control his anger and erratic behavior. She was a true believer in Jones from the first day, probably November 3, 1943.
Jones returned to Lowney’s house the next day and took her to bed. Jones in some notes wrote that “she subjected herself to me, she made herself my disciple in everything from writing to love.” He was badly mistaken. The authoritarian Lowney had set out to dominate him, to alleviate his psychological problems, to get him discharged from the army, and to get him on the road to being a writer of renown.
At the end of two weeks, Jones returned to Camp Campbell; he was not court-martialed because a warrant officer had marked him “delayed in route.” Within a few weeks he was AWOL again, with Lowney and her husband, who did not object to her relationship with a troubled, aspiring writer. Upon his return to Camp Campbell at Christmas time, he was transferred to the 842nd Quartermaster Gas and Supply Company also stationed at Camp Campbell. He was soon made a company clerk. He was at work on his novel called They Shall Inherit the Laughter.
While he was busy as a clerk, he wrote his brother, “ideas, sentences, whole paragraphs would pop into my head – and I wasn’t able to write them down.” At night, he would write page after page of his novel, then tear them up and throw them away. To get a better environment for his work, he went AWOL again, probably about May 15, and stayed with artist friends in Indianapolis where, relieved from stress, he was able to write 20,000 words in two weeks.
Jones’s commanding officer, Captain Eugene A. Mailloux, inquired of Lowney where her protégé might be. She made telephone calls, located him in Indianapolis, and then went to Indianapolis to convince Jones to return to Camp Campbell. Lowney then wrote this disingenuous letter [her later handwritten marginal notes are in brackets]:
June 2, 1944 [4 days on D Day]
Captain Eugene A. Mailloux,
842nd Q.M. Gas Supply
Camp Campbell, Kentucky.
In answer to your inquiry concerning the whereabouts of my friend, Sgt. James R. Jones, I regret that I am unable to be of any help to you. I also want it on record that I will not assume responsibility for any of his erratic actions as he is the sort of person whose actions are positively unpredictable. Not that I mean this as derogatory, however, since you say you have checked with the men and studied his record I am certain you understand what I mean. I can furnish all sorts of proof from anyone living here in Robinson, his home town, as to his instability as an ordinary citizen, although harmless if left alone to work at the one thing he cares about.
Jones is an artist. He is very sensitive, and certainly far from conservative in his thinking. Like all artists he is not aware of any law, so cannot predict what he may do, am positive he has never understood the terms ethics as you and I define it. I have heard him say that when he was overseas he meant to kill his commander officer and that the only reason he did not do so was that the opportunity did not occur. [Capt. Mailloux had told me he meant to ship Jim overseas for D. Day This got him out at once – James read this while still in the Lock up was angry with me –.] This of course could have been a form of showing off, but I felt at the time that he spoke the truth.
On the other hand, I am sure, he is a writer of very rare promise. This is not only my own opinion but I have shown samples of his work to a number of people and they have been unusually impressed. Among these was Tom Uzzell, former fiction editor of Collier’s Weekly. All agree that he is brilliant, undoubtedly genius. If he is a poor soldier this will account for it, for genius is almost invariably remarkably astute in one line and utter failures in all others.
You say your aim is to help him. I am glad that he is in the hands of an understanding person who realizes that writers of his ability (my friends agree that he is in a class with Hemmingway [sic], Tom Wolfe, John Dos Passos, the few great develop so in a century.
If you are to check further with people living here in his home town, I suggest you write Bayard E. Heath, maker of the Heath Toffee Bar, who was a boyhood school friend of his father and [he] will confirm my state as to his lifelong instability and his suicide. Judge William B. McCarty will back this information that one of this father’s brothers was a gangster and ‘taken for a ride’ in East Saint Louis a few years ago. Also he will enlarge on the fact that another brother is a shyster lawyer, who had to leave here for a number of years, making his home in Florida because of crooked dealings. Dr. Sam S. Allen will give you medical statistics on the family histories of his parents, having the same instability on the maternal side. Mr. Maxwell Minor, one of his high school teachers, who still resides here will confirm his abnormal brilliance as well as all the trouble he caused the faculty. I have been told that he was son probation at this time, with talk of being sent to the reformatory, however, I cannot verify this and it may be nothing but gossip. But this I am sure, through his conversation to me, that he hates society and feels that he owes them nothing because of all the buffing around he has received. Both of his parents died while he was overseas and not yet twenty.
Again I wish to make it quite clear that I will not be held responsible for any of his notions, although I consider him quite harmless if he is allowed to follow his profession, I might even make it as strong as destiny. But there will never by any stability nor dependability in this character along the line of a good conservative citizen. This is the history of his case and even though I have made a tremendous effort on my part to help him and will do so again, I will not be accountable for anything he may do. I will wire or call you if I should hear of hers whereabouts.
[Mrs. Lowney Handy]
I have not been able to verify that Jones wanted to kill his commanding officer. Jones’s Uncle Charles did not have a sterling reputation in Robinson. Jones’s Uncle Paul walked on the shady side, but I have not seen evidence that he was a gangster. I have seen no evidence that James Jones as a high school student was in serious trouble with the law.
Captain Mailloux responded to Lowney on June 7, 1944. Jones had returned on May 30, 1944: “As soon as he reported to me, I of course, put him under arrest. As I saw he was under some mental strain and in a very depressed mood, I called the Detachment Surgeon and had him placed under observation. They in turn are taking action toward a possible discharge under Section VIII, AR 615-630 (Inaptness or undesirable habits or traits of character).” Lowney and Jones knew the stigma attached to Section VIII discharges and wanted an honorable discharge for Jones. There was a major problem Jones had to overcome: because of his third AWOL he was to be court martialed.
Captain Mailloux assured Lowney that her letter of June 2, 1944, would be an exhibit, “to prove that he is mentally unbalanced.” The captain, however, believed that Jones was not mentally unbalanced and not Section VIII material. Instead, he asserted that Jones “is conceited, egotistical, selfish individual who thinks that he is a genius because a few people have told him so.” Still, the captain had certain sympathies for Jones, who had been wounded on Guadalcanal. Mailloux did say that whatever the medical decision was would also be his decision.
Captain Mailloux told Lowney that Jones should accept army orders “no matter what his personal feelings are. We all have a job to do these days and that personal ideals should be laid to one side until that job is done.” That is to say, Jones should expect to see duty in Europe.
Jones was sent to the stockade for a short time then moved to the neuropsychiatric ward for observation. Dr. Howard E. Roberts of the Medical Corps made these notes on June 1 about his interview with Jones: “Feels he had done his share and wants out to write because of intense desire to express himself. Says if he gets ordered overseas again he will commit suicide but the world will be the loser by missing his writing. Patient feels depressed mostly but has brief spells of elation. Sometimes he feels he stands outside of his body and see himself as an actor in a play. He has disturbed dreams and is bothered by memories of combat, blood, stench of death and hardships. Feels it was valuable to him tho as background for his writing.”
Dr. Roberts at first diagnosed “acute depression,” but after observing Jones’s “mood swings, compulsive behavior and some schizoid characteristics,” he also diagnosed psychoneurosis, mixed anxiety and compulsive types with schizoid trends.
Jones wrote to his brother Jeff on June 3 about his interview with Dr. Roberts. Jones thought he wasn’t believed when he said he would kill himself if ordered overseas again. If I don’t get out of the army, he wrote, “I’ll either go mad or turn into a criminal – which is just next door to a writer anyway; that all I want to do is write and that nobody and no thing means anything to me except writing.”
Lowney played on Captain Mailloux’s sympathy for Jones. She wrote him on June 10, 1944 saying she hoped he would continue to help her: “I agree with your statement that Pvt. Jones would be a tough job for somebody. And since you are convinced that I am the person to undertake it will do everything I possibly can. I am most anxious to work with you, since you are willing to see that he gets every opportunity as long as he is not favored above the group.” Lowney was going to be in Kentucky later in the week and hoped to talk with Captain Mailloux. She probably did see him. She did see Jones, and she undoubtedly gave him advice on how to present himself to Dr. Roberts and the Medical Board.
Captain Mailloux had also written to Jones’s brother, Jeff, and Jeff was then interviewed by a social worker. The social worker reported that Jeff believed his brother was a man of principle and honor but too much the individualist to fit into the army.
Captain Mailloux was away from Camp Campbell for a short time and Lt. Fred F. De Palma wrote Lowney on June 21, 1944, that he had seen Pvt. Jones in the Station Hospital the day before and he was dismissing the court-martial against Jones, allowing the Medical Board of Officers, meeting that night, to review the case and render a decision. De Palma had good news: “It’s almost a certainty that Jones will be discharged.” He continued, “The boy seemed to be relieved.”
Lt. De Palma assured Lowney that Captain Mailloux “probably exhausted every opportunity in helping out Jones.” De Palma had written to the captain the night before to bring him up-to-date on the Jones matter. De Palma wrote, “It’s just as he planned it.” The captain had changed his mind; his original view was that Jones should be sent to Europe.
Captain Mailloux still being absent, Lt. De Palma wrote Lowney on June 26, 1944: “It’s happened. Jones is now Jimmy. The only time he’ll see private is on a swinging door. We got his records completed here as soon as possible and transferred to the casual company that actually does the discharging.” The certificate of disability stated that at the time of enlistment Jones’s psychoneurosis was not in existence, and since it was not fault of his own he should be discharged “for disability in line of duty, and not due to his own misconduct.” Jones received an honorable discharge on July 6, 1944. Lowney claimed credit for the discharge. She did help change the captain’s mind.
For Jones’s wounding & transfer to Memphis, see MacShane, Into Eternity, pp. 54-62.
For Jones’s first AWOL and his meeting with Lowney Handy see A.B.C. Whipple, “James Jones and His Angel,” Life, May 7, 1951, pp. 142, 144, 147, 149, 150, 152, 154, 157. Jones wrote about his going AWOL and meeting Lowney in They Shall Inherit the Laughter; those chapters are included in To the End of War, ed. by George Hendrick. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, pp. 25-107.
For Jones on Lowney as his disciple, see To Reach Eternity, page 37. For Jones’s behavioral problems in Robinson while AWOL, and with his differences with his Uncle Charles, see To the End of the War, pp. 69-107, 147-150 & MacShane, Into Eternity, pp. 61-70.
For Jones’s writing before going AWOL for the 3rd time, see To Reach Eternity, p. 43.
The letter of Lowney Handy to Captain Mailloux, June 2, 1944, is from Archives/Special Collections, University of Illinois at Springfield.
Captain Mailloux to Lowney Handy, June 7, 1944; Mrs. Lowney Handy to Captain Mailloux, June 10, 1944; Lt. Fred F. De Palma to Lowney Handy, June 21, 1944; and Lt. De Palma to Lowney Handy, June 26, 1944, are from Archives/Special Collections, University of Illinois at Springfield. Dr. Roberts’s notes on James Jones are from Frank MacShane, Into Eternity, pp. 68-70.
For Dr. Roberts’s psychiatric report on Jones, see MacShane, Into Eternity, p. 69.
Above, past James Jones First Novel Fellows, seated from left, Stephen Policoff, Leslie Schwartz, Greg Hrbek, and in back, Mary Kay Zuravleff, Robin Oliveria, Louise Wareham Leonard.
Their stories told. Their voices heard.
At the November 2015 symposium of the JJLS, six former James Jones First Novel Fellows reflected on how the fellowship has changed their lives — making it possible for their stories to be told, their voices heard.
The following fellows participated in a panel discussion at the symposium. In addition to having their winning entries published, each has gone on to publish subsequent books.
Greg Hrbek (1996 Fellow)
Most recent book: Not on Fire, But Burning (Melville House 2015)
Twenty-year-old Skyler saw it from the window: a metallic object that descended from the sky at terrific speed, slowed above the Golden Gate Bridge, and then severed the bridge’s suspension cables before a toxic mushroom cloud lifted above San Francisco . . .
Flash-forward to a future America, where no one knows who was responsible for the explosion in San Francisco—or even what that explosion was, exactly—but Muslims have nonetheless been herded onto the old Indian reservations in the west. In suburban New York, Skyler’s little brother Dorian is twelve and dreaming about killing Muslims . . . when his next-door neighbor adopts a Muslim orphan from the territories.
That simple act of benevolence will set off a series of increasingly terrifying incidents that force an entire community to reckon with their most deeply held beliefs, and—for Dorian—will lead to either tragedy or redemption.
From a NPR review:
Hrbek shifts deliriously between first-, second- and third-person points of view, not to mention past, present and future tense. At first this feels annoyingly gratuitous; gradually, though, this piecemeal perspective reveals a deeper purpose. Not on Fire toys with the edges of meta, slipping here and there into a dizzying self-awareness that underscores Hrbek’s running commentary about the fractured nature of reality. At the same time, the story stays solidly rooted in a propulsive, suspenseful plot, full of lyrical dialogue and gorgeous language. It isn’t easy to unpack, but Hrbek rewards the effort with head-spinning subversions of what speculative fiction is expected to do. There are no clear answers or pat explanations. And as Dorian and Karim become drawn, each in their own way, toward violent extremism, the book takes time to meditate meaningfully on hate, fear, faith and what sets us on paths that we often feel powerless to depart.
52 Men is taut, spare and highly compressed autobiographical fiction for the mobile age, it is immensely funny and sexually charged.
From an interview with Caroline Leavittville:
You’re a critically acclaimed poet. Did writing fiction come naturally to you? How different was it?
For me the hardest thing, was finding the right form to express my experience. For a long time, I thought I was supposed to be a traditional novelist – but I struggled with, for example, multi-generational psychological dramas that seemed to make sense of everything. I couldn’t fit my life or past into that; nothing matched up neatly, it seemed impossible to find one way to see things, one vantage point that stayed the same. I thought for a time that poetry would work best for me because it has hidden spaces and is subtle and oblique. Yet as soon as I started to create my own kind of work – a mix of styles, – a kind of intense ‘poetic’ prose, with space and elision and the ability to change directions and emotions, I felt happiest. Quickness, lightness, intensity, that’s what I love in language, in hybrid works, in texts that use different forms. http://louisewarehamleonard.com/
Robin Oliveira (2007 Fellow)
Most recent book: I Always Loved You (Viking 2014)
From an interview:
In this book, you write about the process of being and becoming an artist. Did you find a connection between writing and art? Do you paint?
I have painted and drawn as a hobby, but I am not an artist. In fact, my forays into that area were gently discouraged by an art teacher at the University of Washington Extension. But as I wrote this story, I did find a great deal of connection between the two disciplines. To be an artist is to be an artist, no matter the medium. All artists face either a blank page or a blank canvas or a block of stone or….it can go on and on, because art has many guises and many mediums. But the process and fears, to me, are the same. It was a relief, in many ways, to discuss the difficulties of producing art through the eyes of painters. I felt freer to explore what I perceive to be the truth about creative work.
What is your writing routine?
I, like Degas and Cassatt, keep regular working hours. I write for at least six hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how much my brain will tolerate. I can usually tell when my brain has turned off; I have found that trying to continue to write after that is a waste of time. Mostly, I write on a treadmill desk, which means I have an elevated desk with a treadmill underneath. I walk at about 1.1 miles per hour while I compose. However, depending on my task—rewriting or editing—I sometimes write lying in bed or sitting outside on the front terrace, but only when it’s not raining.
Who is the small, greenish girl Paul Brickner repeatedly sees skittering around the edge of his yard in upstate New York? No one else seems to see her. Ever since Spring was injured in a fluke fall, Paul has been possessed with the anxiety that he might lose her.
From an interview with Serious Reading:
I have been told that my novels are slipstream. I’m not really sure what that means, and certainly I never had any thought about what genre I was writing. My novels seem to be dark domestic comedies with a mild buzz of the supernatural. My first novel, Beautiful Somewhere Else, involved possible alien abduction on a vacation to Cape Cod; Come Away features the lore of the changeling and repeated sightings of a sinister green child within a happy marriage in upstate New York. My novel-in-progress has a ghost or two. I suppose that the boundary-crossing (is this a literary novel? Is this fantasy?) perplexes some people, which is OK with me. Maybe that’s what slipstream means?
Living in a small town in the mountains of California, Ethan Denton is a lucky man. Most things have gone his way, and being granted full custody of Nate, his young son, has given him a near-perfect life. On a crisp winter morning just before the start of deer season, Ethan and Nate set off together to discover the beauties of the forest. As he parks the truck, Ethan spots a pair of magnificent bucks and, eager to take a closer look, leaves Nate asleep in the car seat, a brief, impulsive decision any parent might make. When he returns only a few minutes later, the door of the truck is open and Nate is nowhere to be seen. Ethan and other members of the community search for the missing three-year-old, their fears rising as an unexpected blizzard blankets the woods.
From an interview with the Writer’s Program:
What are the most detrimental things that keep a writer from getting words onto the page? What can be done about it?
The first thing is that writers worry too much about getting published when they don’t even have a first draft. Or they worry too much about what people will think, especially if the novel is thinly disguised autobiography. Writers should have more fun, and worry less. Secondly, new writers really need to understand that writing is all about revision. And this takes time. New writers get too wrapped up in this feeling that they need to hurry up and finish, rather than participate calmly in the experience of writing, which is so sublime, really, and in some ways, infinitely more rewarding than publishing. Finally, writers must read and they must constantly find a way to improve their work. All of these things take enormous courage and perseverance and I think above all else the people who get published are the ones who just keep plugging away, no matter how hard it might seem.
Most recent book: Man Alive! (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013)
All it takes is a quarter to change Owen Lerner’s life. When lightning strikes the coin he’s feeding into the parking meter, the pediatric psychiatrist survives, except that now he only wants to barbecue. The bolt of lightning that lifts Dr. Lerner into the air sends the entire Lerner clan into free fall, and Man Alive! follows along at that speed, capturing family-on-family pain with devastating humor and a rare generosity. This novel explores how much we are each allowed to change within a family—and without.
From an interview with Fiction Writers Review:
During your book launch, you shared with the audience that you originally wrote Man Alive! in past tense but revised the entire manuscript in present tense. Why?
The novel was supposed to be done, and as I was rereading it in past tense, I realized it was too slow. The problem was pacing. The visualization I had in my head was that the family was arranged like billiard balls on a pool table and the lightning strike hits cue-ball Owen, which in turn scatters them in all directions. The reader is supposed to feel like she is just holding on for the ride; in past tense, that urgency was lost. First, I trimmed language, the flowing, surreal account of what Owen felt and imagined in his scrambled brain. But that made it too truncated, too staccato. I realized that the problem was tense. If I wanted the reader in the fire with Owen, present is the more empathetic tense. Usually, present tense slows things down because it takes so long to get anywhere, right? Past tense is one of elision. You can really travel in past tense. But for Man Alive! I needed the reader to be right inside the flames.
Coward. It’s a grave insult, likely to provoke anger, shame, even violence. But what exactly is cowardice? When terrorists are called cowards, does it mean the same as when the term is applied to soldiers? And what, if anything, does cowardice have to do with the rest of us?
These are some of the provocative questions raised by Chris Walsh‘s Cowardice: A Brief History (Princeton University Press, 2014). Walsh gave the keynote talk at the James Jones Literary Society’s November 2015 symposium in at Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Bringing together sources from court-martial cases to literary and film classics such as Dante’s Inferno, The Red Badge of Courage, and The Thin Red Line, Walsh reviewedthe great harm that both cowards and the fear of seeming cowardly have done, and traced the idea of cowardice’s power to its evolutionary roots. But he also argued that this power has faded, most dramatically on the battlefield. Misconduct that earlier might have been punished as cowardice has more recently often been treated medically, as an adverse reaction to trauma, Walsh contended, discussing a parallel therapeutic shift that reaches beyond war, into the realms of politics, crime, philosophy, religion, and love.
Walsh’s work won the 2015 Bronze Medal Winner in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, World History category. He isassociate director of the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program at Boston University and has also taught at Emerson College, Harvard University, and the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. His work has appeared in Civil War History, Essays in Criticism, Raritan, and the Yale Review.
During November 2015’s James Jones Literary Society symposium, the two most recent winners of the James Jones First Novel Fellowship read from their works. Cam Terwilligerof Montreal, Quebec, received the 2014 award for his entry, Yet the Wilderness Grew in My Heart. Josie Sigler, of Portland, Oregon, won in 2015 with her manuscript titled The Flying Sampietrini, a novel. Each received a $10,000 prize for first place.
Terwilliger’s Yet Wilderness Grew in My Heart is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War. It centers on Andrew Whitlaw, a gentleman physician. After a ruinous attempt to found Manhattan’s first medical college, Whitlaw must return to his older brother’s manor in the Hudson Valley. There, the physician becomes embroiled in his brother’s obsessive pursuit of William Bell, a counterfeiter operating on nearby Native American land. When Whitlaw discovers a native girl claiming to be Bell’s wife, she leads him into the heart of the frontier in search of the mysterious counterfeiter.
Terwilliger’s writing has appeared in a number of literary magazines, including West Branch, Electric Literature, Post Road, and Narrative, where he was selected as one of the magazine’s “15 Under 30.” His fiction has also been supported by fellowships from the Fulbright Program, Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Elizabeth George Foundation and the American Antiquarian Society. A graduate of Emerson College’s master of fine arts program, he has taught at Grub Street and Louisiana State University.
Sigler’s novel, The Flying Sampietrini, tells the story of Celestino, a member of the corps of workers whose ancestors built St. Peter’s Basilica. For nearly five centuries, the men of his family have labored at dizzying heights and daunting depths to care for sacred objects and works of art. During the German occupation of Rome in World War II, Celestino must choose between protecting those works of art and saving the lives of a group of Jewish boys who’ve fallen under his care. Sixty years later, his granddaughter, Michela, an art historian and conservator living in New York City, has lost her lover in the bombing of the World Trade Center. While awaiting the birth of their first child, she finds a series of journals in which her grandfather has written his story.
Sigler is the author of The Galaxie and Other Rides, a collection of stories set largely in post-industrial Detroit. Her book of poems, living must bury, won the Motherwell Prize and was published by Fence Books. Her short work “The Compartment” garnered Gulf Coast’s Barthelme Prize. She has completed numerous writing residencies, including time at The Millay Colony for the Arts and the PEN Northwest Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Residency. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant. Sigler holds a dual doctorate in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California.
The November 2015 James Jones Literary Society’s Symposium, held at Wilkes University, had many high points. For JJLS members, none could top the heart-felt accolades and gratitude expressed by six former James Jones First Novel Fellows. During a panel discussion, each testified that winning the Fellowship changed their lives in many ways, but what meant the most to them was the affirmation of themselves as writers. The JJLS can take tremendous pride in supporting this powerful legacy to James Jones for the past 25 years.
In addition, Chris Walsh, (right) author of Cowardice: A Brief History (Princeton University Press, 2014), gave an insightful keynote address on the subject of his book that included The Thin Red Line as a source.
Other highlights included:
A private screening of From Here to Eternity – The Musical.
Panel discussion of the James Jones Legacy
Author reception and book signings by past James Jones Fellows
Banquet with readings by 2014 and 2015 James Jones First Novel Winners
Free fiction workshops for the public taught by James Jones First Novel judges.
Matthew L. Basso, is Associate Professor of History and Gender Studies at the University of Utah, presented a fascinating talk, drawing from his highly regarded book, Meet Joe Copper: Masculinity & Race on Montana’s World War II Home Front (U of Chicago Press) at the Ninth Annual James Jones Lecture Series the evening of November 4, 2015, at Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL.
Basso’s talk explored home-front men’s relationship to the federal government, wartime popular culture, and the two protagonists of America’s “Greatest Generation” World War II story: men who served in the military (commonly called Citizen Soldiers) and women who entered the war-production job force (commonly called Rosie the Riveter).
The Inaugural James Jones Symposium was held on the same date in the afternoon. The symposium featured undergraduate and faculty papers on and discussion of aspects of World War II, focused through the lens of history and literature. Basso was the respondent.
The following papers were presented:
Jinhee J Lee (Associate Professor, History and Asian Studies): “Racism without Race and the Origin of ‘Korea-phobia’ in Imperial Japan and Beyond”
Kevin Lux (Undergraduate Student, History): “American Media and Perspectives on the Air-bombing of Japanese Cities during World War II”
Marjorie Worthington (Professor, English): “Coming All the Way Home: Fictions of Post-War Trauma” (See the separate blog post below for Dr. Worthington’s entire paper)
Joelene Quinn (Undergraduate Student, History): “‘Thanks Babe, But We’ll Take It from Here’: Shifting Public Opinion of Women Military Members in World War II”
The lecture and symposium were sponsored by EIU Department of English and of History, the James Jones Literary Society, the College of Arts & Humanities, and the EIU Humanities Center.
Marjorie Worthington, Ph.D., Professor of English at Eastern Illinois University (EIU), presented the following paper at the Inaugural James Jones Symposium held on Nov. 4, 2015, at EIU in conjunction with the Ninth Annual James Jones Lecture Series.
It has been observed for decades that traumatic experience during wartime can cause physical and psychological disorders characterized by intense flashbacks, memory loss, dissociation or hyperarousal. Over time, these disorders have gone by many names: Shell shock, war strain, and even war neurosis were common diagnoses during and after World War I; similar syndromes were called “combat exhaustion” or “gross stress reaction” after World War II and later, “post-Vietnam syndrome.” But while the symptoms of post-war neuroses have been recognized for one hundred years or more, they have not been and are still not particularly well understood. Indeed, doctors and scholars are only now beginning to comprehend the depth of the psychic repercussions of war-related traumatic experience. For example, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, was only added to the medical diagnostic lexicon in 1980 and is only now being widely recognized, as newer treatments are introduced to a new generation of sufferers.
Although the actual diagnosis of PTSD did not exist at the time, literature has long been depicting it in relation to a variety of different wars, from the character of Septimus Smith in Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway to John Wade in Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods from 1995 to Brian Remy in Jess Walter’s 9/11 novel The Zero from 2006. Currently, literary scholars are bringing the new clinical insights afforded by research into PTSD to bear on these literary texts. With interesting and far-reaching effect, scholars employ psychological interpretive techniques as a means of understanding both the effects of trauma on the psyche of the literary characters and the sometimes dense and opaque narratives depicting trauma survivors.
Thus, in recent decades, Trauma Studies has emerged as an important mode of both psychological and literary analysis. The resultant body of trauma theory has done a great deal to explicate the traditions and narrative strategies particular to that genre. A “trauma” is typically understood to be an experience or event so overwhelming that its sufferer is often unable to process or make sense of it. A traumatic event, according to Cathy Caruth, “is not assimilated or experienced fully at the time, but only belatedly, in its repeated possession of the one who experiences it” (Trauma 4, emphasis Caruth’s). Or, as Kai Erikson argues, “Above all, trauma involves a continual reliving of some wounding experience in daydreams and nightmares, flashbacks and hallucinations, and in a compulsive seeking out of similar circumstances” (184). As described here, a person suffering through a trauma does not or cannot understand the event as it happens, but afterward repeatedly returns viscerally and often unwillingly to that event in his/her memory. Indeed, one of the primary symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is this vivid reliving of the traumatic moment or moments, either in dreams or waking life. Lawrence Langer deems this constant reliving of a single moment a “durational” mode of time rather than a “chronological” one; to Langer, the concept of durational time better describes the ways that a trauma survivor shifts back and forth in time and continues to experience the trauma as though it were still happening, even though it is long in the past. In Langer’s estimation, the trauma has lasting duration, even though it has receded in chronological time (14-15). Thus, the event takes on greater and greater significance after the fact, as time is essentially put out of joint and the trauma survivor is often unable to set it right.
This idea that trauma survivors experience time as durational rather than chronological provides a fascinating insight into one of the classic novels of post-World-War-II literature: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, published in 1969. In this novel, protagonist Billy Pilgrim is described as having come “unstuck in time”: “Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another on in 1941. He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between. He says. Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next” (29). Now, Billy Pilgrim’s situation goes beyond what most trauma survivors might experience, since some of his time travels involve being abducted by aliens and put in a zoo exhibit on the planet Tralfamadore. After all, Vonnegut is known, among other things, as a master of science fiction. But this idea of being unstuck in time, of vividly reliving moments of one’s life as though they were actually happening again and again, of not knowing when such a flashback might occur or where in time one might emerge…these characteristics are indicative of what we would now call PTSD.
And as for those aliens, it is lucky for Billy that he met up with them, for they explain to him their own perception of time, and he finds their view tremendously helpful in understanding his own: to the Tralfamadorians, “All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever” (34). The Tralfamadorians remind us that time is, after all, just another dimension; viewing it their way not only helps Billy understand his own relationship to time better, but it also helps him cope with the sense of mourning for those he has lost. He explains, “When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments” (34). The idea, I suppose, is to try not to get stuck in the bad moments, or to try to see them for what they are: part of a much larger landscape. For trauma survivors like Billy, of course, this is easier said than done.
But in its way, Slaughterhouse-Five not only depicts a trauma survivor’s experience, but attempts to explain it and, perhaps, to assuage its considerable pain. And this is often the case in literature that has come to be known as “trauma narrative.” These narratives represent the attempt by trauma survivors, through telling the story of what happened, to impose order and meaning upon the experience, but with the, often implicit, understanding that a trauma cannot be accurately depicted in a straightforwardly mimetic fashion. Realism, the argument goes, cannot get to the real Truth of a deeply traumatic experience: sometimes it requires aliens. In other words, trauma narratives often tend to eschew strategies of traditional Realism in favor of experimental strategies and structures that better convey the horror and confusion indicative of a traumatic experience. As Laurie Vickroy puts it: “Trauma narratives go beyond presenting trauma as subject matter or character study. They internalize the rhythms, processes and uncertainties of traumatic experience within their underlying sensibilities and structures” (3). Such a narrative can take the form of a surrealistic Slaughterhouse-Five, or the intensely naturalistic and personalized form of James Jones’s own 1962 novel The Thin Red Line.
Perhaps Tim O’Brien, keynote speaker of the 2009 James Jones Symposium, explains this concept much better when he differentiates between “happening-truth” and “story-truth.” To O’Brien, “happening-truth” refers to the historically accurate facts about what actually happened in a particular moment; “story-truth” refers to the process of turning that moment into a narrative—a process that often requires taking liberties with or even altering actual events to fit them into a story. O’Brien argues that, although they deviate from the actual facts of the event, such alterations can and should serve the purpose of rendering a deeper “Truth” about the event than the happening-truth could ever convey. In The Things They Carried, published in 1990, O’Brien puts it this way: “By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened…and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain” (152). Thus, somewhat ironically, chronicling the Truth of a horrific event sometimes requires fiction. “Story-truth,” to O’Brien, provides a deeper understanding of trauma than could a blow-by-blow chronological, referential account.
For example, Chief Bromden, the Native American World War II veteran who narrates Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest envisions the world around him as a machine called the Combine, which forces people to fit into society by cutting them all down to the same size. To Chief, the purpose of the psychiatric institution where he lives is to take people who do not fit and subject them to so-called “therapies” designed not to help them but to force them through the Combine: to force them to fit. While perhaps a very apt metaphor for society in general, the Combine is no metaphor to Chief Bromden. Because he suffers from a mental illness that causes him to drift into catatonia and to dissociate from his current surroundings—because, in other words, he suffers from PTSD—he claims to see things that others cannot. He sees the literal manifestation of the Combine, hears the whir of its machinery in the hospital walls, and understands that the nefarious Nurse Ratched is a part of the giant engine: “She looks around with a swivel of her huge head. Nobody up to see, just old Broom Bromden the half-breed Indian…So she really lets herself go and her painted smile twists, stretches to an open snarl, and she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor, so big I can smell the machinery inside the way you smell a motor pulling too big a load” (30). As O’Brien might say, these images are part of the “story-truth,” if not the “happening-truth,” and we as readers recognize them as such. In other words, we recognize that it is the Chief’s mental illness that causes him to see the Nurse as a giant tractor-like machine. But simultaneously, we also recognize that as story-truth, these images convey a deeper Truth about the Nurse as an agent of social control than a merely Realistic description ever could: this is a testament to the power of fiction, and to the non-mimetic nature of the trauma narrative.
Michael Rothberg has coined the term “traumatic realism” to describe this somewhat ironic need for trauma writers to move away from traditional Realistic literary traditions in order to convey trauma realistically. In the case of Chief Bromden, what he describes is not realistic, but what the novel portrays IS a realistic portrait of the inner workings of his mind, and it is that portrayal which mines the deeper truth of life in the hospital.
Traumatic Realism often manifests itself at the level of narrative structure as well as the level of plot or character. What I mean is, as a traumatic event returns to their consciousness again and again, survivors often attempt to transform that trauma into a narrative as a way to make meaning from the apparent meaninglessness of their experience, to impose narrative order on chaos. But imposing that order often requires a seemingly disordered narrative: the disjointed sense of time and the tumultuous feelings evoked by the trauma are often best depicted by a variety of structural experiments. As Anne Whitehead points out, “if trauma is at all susceptible to narrative formulation, then it requires a literary form which departs from conventional linear sequence” (6). Just as the trauma survivor re-experiences the trauma repeatedly and long after it occurred—in durational rather than chronological time—trauma narratives often reject straightforward temporal linearity and are characterized by repetitions and jumps forward and back in time.
In addition to Slaughterhouse-Five, novels such as Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 published in 1961 and Leslie Marmon Silko’s 1977 novel Ceremony are also characterized by frequent repetition and breaks with a linear storytelling structure. In Catch-22, the plot unfolds in a repetitive and circular manner, an event is referred to several times before it is fully explicated, making it difficult to discern the chronological order in which things took place. For example, the death of Radio Gunner Snowden is perhaps the most important event to our protagonist Yossarian. Snowden’s death is referred to throughout the novel and is the cause of much of Yossarian’s eccentric behavior. Yet the death is not fully described until near the end of the novel; oddly, then, Snowden’s death is presented as the climax of the novel, yet it had taken place long before many of the other events we read about. In other words, Catch-22 does away with traditional linear temporal structure, and instead presents the material in terms of its importance to Yossarian: the novel presents the material the way a trauma survivor might experience it, with the traumatic moment positioned as the most important, as the novel’s climax, even though it took place early on in the strictly chronological scheme of events.
The novel Ceremony also links disjointed temporal presentation with wartime trauma, as Tayo, a Laguna Pueblo Indian, returns to his home in New Mexico after surviving the Bataan Death March which took the life of Rocky, his cousin and best friend. Although it is not diagnosed as such, Tayo’s PTSD is so severe that he at times imagines himself as disembodied white smoke, unable to speak or move, but also unable to feel the very real pain of his loss. At other times, he lives and relives the moments of his trauma, thinking “Years and months had become weak, and people could push against them and wander back and forth in time” (18). Once Tayo has returned home physically, the novel portrays his struggle to return home mentally and spiritually as well, rather than to continue to dwell on past pain and loss.
In Tayo’s case, the trauma narrative—the story that helps bring order to the chaos of his traumatic experience—takes the form of a Native American ceremony, adapted from the traditional ones used to heal warriors who had killed in battle. This contemporary ceremony needs to be done very carefully: “They couldn’t simply take him back because he would be in between forever and probably he would die” (130). Rather, the ceremony story has to unfold slowly and the whole community must take part in order for Tayo and others like him to be able to come all the way home and not be stuck in between. For Tayo, the story that ultimately allows him to come all the way home involves reframing his pain and loss and looking at them in a different way: “Josiah and Rocky were not far away. They were close; they had always been close….he could still feel the love they had for him. The damage that had been done had never reached this feeling. This feeling was their life, vitality locked deep in blood memory, and…nothing was ever lost as long as the love remained” (219-220). Tayo’s hard-won healing process provides a new story frame through which he can see his experiences—instead of remaining locked in moments of pain and loss, he learns to take a more Tralfamadorian view of time, learns to feel the presence of his loved ones by focusing on the happier moments lodged in his memory.
I should make clear that, while trauma narratives can sometimes bring some relief to trauma survivors, scholars do not suggest that such experimental narrative techniques can actually “cure” PTSD, or even render a traumatic experience with complete accuracy; in this manner, trauma scholars find their forebears in the poststructuralist theorists who argue that language can never be a completely transparent mode of communication. Instead, critical consensus suggests that the goal of a trauma narrative is to facilitate psychological closure to a traumatic event. As Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub explain: “For traumatic memory to lose its power as a fragment and symptom and for it to be integrated into memory, a form of narrative reconstruction or reexternalization has to occur” (Felman and Laub 69).
One conclusion we can draw from this discussion is that trauma narrative can play an important role in a historical understanding of events that may be too horrible to depict in traditional historical terms. In his book Traumatic Realism, Holocaust scholar Michael Rothberg discusses the conflicting need to both position the Holocaust as an actual event within verifiable historical contexts, and to recognize that the sheer horror of the event renders it incomprehensible and in some senses unrepresentable in traditional historical modes. This is where trauma narrative can be useful. Ann Whitehead argues that the experimental nature of many trauma narratives is in keeping with contemporary literary traditions: “Trauma fiction emerges out of postmodernist fiction and shares its tendency to bring conventional narrative techniques to their limit. In testing formal boundaries, trauma fiction seeks to foreground the nature and limitations of narrative and to convey the damaging and distorting impact of the traumatic event” (82). I might actually argue the converse. What I mean is, given the repeated worldwide traumas that characterize the twentieth century, it could potentially be argued that the opposite is more accurate: that postmodernist fiction emerges out of trauma, much the same way that scholars have long suggested that Modernism emerged out of the traumas of the early twentieth century. Most significantly, however, trauma narratives use language and structure in innovative ways in the attempt to convey the unusual and life-altering nature of the traumatic event and, in the process, often serve to help bring the survivor all the way home.
Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995.
Erikson, Kai. “Notes on Trauma and Community.” In Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Cathy Caruth, ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995. 183-199.
Felman, Shoshana and Dori Laub. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. New York: Signet, 1963.
Langer, Lawrence. Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory. New Haven: Yale UP, 1991.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009 (orig. pub’d 1990).
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Penguin Books, 1983.
Vickroy, Laurie. Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction. Charlottesville, UVA Press: 2002.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five Or the Children’s Crusade. New York: Delacorte Press, 1994. Originally published 1969.
A prize of $10,000 is given annually for a novel-in-progress by a U.S. writer who has not published a novel. Runners-up will receive $1000. A selection from the winning work is published in Provincetown Arts, and the winner also receives free travel and lodging to attend the James Jones Literary Society Conference. This year the conference will be held at Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA.
This year, the James Jones Fellowship had a total of 623 submissions.
Below are the top four novels as decided by the judges.
Josie Sigler, Portland, Oregon, is the winner of the James Jones First Novel Fellowship with her manuscript titled The Flying Sampietrini, a novel.
Reed Johnson, Takoma Park, Maryland, is the runner-up winner with his manuscript titled Love in the Afterlife.
Crystal Hana Kim, Chicago, Il, is the runner-up winner with her manuscript titled If You Leave Me.
Jake Andrews, Iowa City, Iowa, for his manuscript,Fiat Vita.
2015 Judges: Kaylie Jones, daughter of James Jones and novelist; Barbara Taylor, novelist and author of Sing In The Morning, Cry At Night; and Taylor Polites, novelist and author of TheRebel Wife.