I read James Jones' first novel, "From Here To Eternity," a few years ago, and was impressed by it, and finally recently got around to reading his second, "Some Came Running." Long out of print, I found some copies on half.com and ordered one up, only to find, upon its arrival in the mail, that I'd ordered the abridged version. I did a little research and found that the abridged version was first published in 1958, the year after the novel came out, in order to coincide with the film adaptation released at the time. Normally, that's how I like to do in cases where I haven't read a book or seen its film adaptation: one after the other. At the outset, it seemed unlikely a film version of this book would work, not only because of the length and the constant profanity (which you couldn't get away with in 1957, of course), but because chief among the novel's themes are sex and writing, and how sexual thoughts and needs affect the creative mind. Normally I can judge a movie based on its own merits, but I think that this time around, having spent over a month reading this wonderful book, I was too taken aback by the movie's different ideas and themes to enjoy as well as I could have. This was evident in "From Here to Eternity," where "can't" is written as "cant," and "readin'" is "readin"--but is even moreso in "Some Came Running." From what I understand, he abandoned this style later in his career (though I have no personal knowledge of that, as I have yet to read his later works).
Dave Hirsch is a writer running back from the war to his hometown of Parkman Illinois, around 1946. He was run out of town as teenager for getting a girl in trouble, he returns 19 years later as a middle aged man troubled by writers block, by loneliness, by alcoolism, by the sheer dreariness of existence in a small MidWestern town. One of the barflies in town, another army retiree, sums it up later in the novel: Im a rebel, he would say; just like you guys. That Lost Generation of the twenties, they loved it; they never had it so good. The town is divided, the right and the wrong side of the tracks, with Frank Hirsch as the epitome of the righteous citizen and Bama Dillert as the leader of the pack for the rebels. Dave moves between the two worlds, craving acceptance and recognition as a writer and as a man, yet drifting persistently back to the bottom after each attempt to cross over. Frank Hirsh, Daves elder brother, is the one that stayed behind while the youngster drifted to sunny California and became a writer. He believes he is a smooth operator, in business and in his love affairs, but people read him like an open book. In one of his first scenes he has a row with Agnes: So for the next hour, until he went to get Dave, with that singular and ferocious talent she alone had for separating him cell from cell and nerve from nerve, she asured Frank she would not allow Brother Dave on the premises for any reason, just on moral grounds alone, while at the same time she upbraided him sorely for not calling her first, and then went on to bring up also every little thing that he had done to her in their married life, over the whole twenty-some-odd years; and the real reason behind it all and all the previous reasons were not even mentioned at all, by either of them. Between Frank Hirsh and Bama Dillert theres a rich panoply of Parkman personalities, moving in and out of the spotlight, drawing Dave in or rejecting him: a cranky father, a resentful mother, a pair of literary professors from the town college Bob and Gwen French, a young aspiring writer named Wally Dennis, a flock of factory girls with easy morals, Edith - a self-reliant young secretary that has a thing for her boss and her own family issues. The novel is so generous in details and nuance regarding these secondary characters, I feel daunted in even considering how to go about it. Because the title of the novel is apt in more ways than expected : I feel exhausted after the last page, as if I have run a marathon myself, emotionally drained yet loath to let go of the story that haunted me for the last couple of months. The book is a lot more disturbing and bleak, but the main difference I think is in the choice of actors : Jones people are not the glamorous A-list stars I have come to identify with: Frank and Dave are short, fat and losing their hair, Bama is tall and thin with a potbelly, Gwen is raw boned and horse-faced, Poor Ginnie is dumpy and disgusting. Talking of Ginnie and Gwen, they are the feminine dichotomy that reflects the Frank / Bama opposing forces that drive Dave from respectability to scandalous behaviour. Ginnie wants to become respectable, Gwen is writing a critical book on what makes writers tick: My thesis was that its this abnormally high potential for falling in love, the really abnormal need for it and the inability to escape it, that largely both makes and destroys the creative personality in any given individual. Dave has a tendency to fall in love with every woman that gravitates close to him, thus proving the point of the critical Gwen: Writing is a lot like sex exhibitionism. The novel is not without problems : like my review it has a tendency to meander, to jump from one subject to another, most of all to go into long aimless and repetitive conversations, to get lost in minute details and to follow up on secondary characters instead of focusing on the main actors. are just a couple of examples of what could bring todays feminists up in arms against Dave or Frank Hirsch and their company. Looking thought the rest of my selected quotes, I notice a leitmotif: Dave got on my nerves with his penchant for being sorry for himself and absolutely passive in doing anything to change the situation, but I couldnt help remembering moments when I was down and blue in my turn, and believed nobody cared where I am and what I do: All his life he had been horrified at the indifference the rest of the human race showed him. Like I said, it gets kind of depressing after 1000+ pages of novel, and its not only Dave all the other Parkman citizens share in the loneliness, live inside their shells looking out, or (in the case of Frank Hirsch) peeping in at night through the lighted windows of his neighbours, at life happening somewhere else while their years pass unchanging inside the bubble. There is even an acceleration of time as the novel progresses, from almost minute by minute presentations in the opening chapters to skipping entire years of working 9 to 5 in a factory towards the end. You can almost excuse and understand the need to go out and get stinkingly drunk on a regular basis at infamous watering holes like Smittys: The tensions, vague fear, and that almost unbearable feeling that nobody on earth loved him, which had made him almost run down the stairs of the hotel, all left him as he parked under the dimly lit windows of the backbar, and got out and went around front and in the door. . Other people feel threatened by the written word, or by what these books might reveal about themselves : Frank did not read a book a year and said it was because he was too busy making a living, but the truth was books frightened him. But there are no innocent bystanders in Parkman, Illinois, and Bob French in his detachment is as guilty as the other town inhabitans (view spoiler)in the tragedy that ends Dave Hirschs life.
I am yet under the spell Some Came Running put on me fifty-two years ago. This is when I learned not only that Some Came Running had been out of print for over half a century, but that a newly abridged edition appeared just last year. Curious to see the impressions of others who'd returned to Some Came Running via this abridgment, I read a few of the customer reviews on Amazon.com. I am speaking more from instinct and with hindsight than from certainty here, but I believe my father resisted edits because, expecting a harsh response from what he considered the snooty 'ivory tower' literary establishment, he decided to thumb his nose at it in every way possible. Kaylie Jones's revelation also explains in partfor me, anywayher father's genius for getting under social pretension and into the marrow of his readers' souls, enabling me to thumb my nose at such contemporaries of Jones as Norman Mailer and William Styron. Some months before my first reading of Some Came Running I had come across a piece of nasty gossip Mailer published about Styron reading aloud at a dinner party some of Jones's work (in his absence) and making fun of it. Simply put, Some Came Running is more real to me today than anything I have read by Mailer or Styronand not only because I've just finished reading it again. It was top-tier, original literary writing, which no doubt dazzled the hell out of me at the time I read it, but which has not remained with me at any depth. Best-selling novelist Elmore Leonard in the most oft-repeated of his ten rules of writing said, If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. If this sounds cynical, here's an insightful squib from the introduction to a published abridgment of his journal, Time out of Mind: I believed the notebooks contained 'real feelings.' not social feelings. It was a little distracting at first in the reading, and I really see no artistic need for it, but eventually if I noticed it at all I found myself enjoying the author's little literary bird flips.) Come to think of it, there's something more particular within the world of Some Came Running that's held me prisoner all these years, although the ambience of the fictitious Parkman, Ill., tickles so many memories of my own hometown in Wisconsin I'm sure it is part of its hold on me. But the real, inclusive grip Some Came Running has on me, has on my heart and most likely always will, is a kitchen. It's the kitchen in the house where Gwen lives with her father, English professor/poet Bob. It is where they spend most of their time when they're home, where they entertain Dave and help him with his novel on his many many visits to the place they call Last Retreat. It's where Dave confronts Gwen, and later Bob, beseeching them with his own anguish over the tortured incomplete love affair.
I'd wanted to read this for some time, but I've never actually seen a copy in the UK, and also there are three different versions of it out there, making it difficult to decide which to read. In "Some Came Running", we get to know quite a number of characters probably better than we get to know almost anyone in real life - so well, in fact, that it almost makes you feel a little queasy at times. Martin was very good in the film, but I actually found that 'Bama came across as less unpleasant in the book! If I mention "The Thin Red Line", people have no idea it was ever a book.
If you are familiar with Mr. Jones' realistic and gritty writing style, you know better than to hope that everyone will live happily ever after.
&!...yet another quote!...this one from mark 10:17-22...i won't write the whole thing out...just the start off: and when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running... the special note...usual disclaimer...there is no parkman, illinois...no israel, either story begins: prologue they came running through the fog across the snow, lumbering, the long rifles held up awkwardly high, the pot helmets they were all so proud of gleaming dully, running fast, but appearing to come slowly, lifting their feet high in the big, thick boots, foreign, alien, brain-chilling. time & place **the prologue is europe...the end of the war...concerns dave hirsh of the 3615th qm gas supply company, a medic...over thirty...1945 **1947, parkman, illinois...dave returns here...hometown, southern illinois, cray county illinois...several years are spent in the telling *christmas, 1947...christmas, 1948 *by story end...it is the time of the korean war... louis, another *the taxi office, on plum street, right behind the foyer poolroom...came to be dubbed "frank's taxi service" although they painted the 3-4 cabs w/red & black checkers *stephen a douglas hotel, a 3-story frame structure...on apple street...dave moves into here after deciding to stay on in parkman to help his bro begin a taxi service *last retreat in israel, the french home *the foyer...the other poolroom on the square *the pump room at the ambassador east...for dinner, geneve & frank *annie's restaurant, next door to ciro's *canary cottage on the circle...indianapolis *claypool hotel...indianapolis *cray county country club *little town of dering in central florida where dave/'bama meet jim and his uncle james *miami, florida...'bama and dave are here for four months...on a whim *winnie's little club...florida...bar of music...five o'clock club, more *nite owl in the west end business district *mcmillan's sporting goods in terre haute *lake audubon...where dawn/wally go to get away *st. vincent's hospital...where they took 'bama *woodsmen's lodge...place dave/'bama play poker *church of christ, saved *castle finn...a strange, little settlement in the bottoms *abraham lincoln...in springfield...frank stays here *parkman village shopping center...big idea of frank's *korea/epilogue *pioneer days...in parkman...(spent time in iowa and this seems to be the fashion, still...mount vernon heritage days...solon beef days...north liberty heritage days...) *factory where dave gets a job painting munitions...terre haute characters *those in prologue & epilogue not listed *hirsh, david l., main protagonist...36-yr-old, later 37-yr-old...returning home after an absence of 19 years...as a senior in high school, he got a girl pregnant, was forced to leave, to join a circus, that was 1928...later...1943, drafted army/war...he has written/published...2? *frank hirsh dave's brother, a jeweler in parkman, a member of the board, cray county bank, and from the time dave has been in the 5th grade, frank had acted as father, as the old man took off *agnes marie, frank's wife...had been agnes towns *little dawn, frank & agnes's daughter, dawn anne *o'donnell...driver of the bus that brought dave to parkman *freddy barker, the clerk at the hotel parkman *francine...dave/frank's sister, in hollywood, an english teacher, and she is a twin w/frank *three other brothers, one in milwaukee, one in new york, one in st. louis, edward, darrell, & george *jake, a tall gray-headed, long-nosed man at ciro's, bartender/cook *three men at ciro's, former soldiers...'bama dillert, dewey cole, & hubie murson **'bama dillert, william howard taft dillert, born 1912 *anton wernz iii, second national bank *wally...wallace french dennis...a young man, a writer, too young to have served...knows/read david hirsh's writing...officially he is 22, as he fixed his license...he also ends many sentences with, man. *harriet bowman...of greater los angeles, now married to a lawyer, but a woman w/whom dave hirsh was...in love, or something *elvira (bales) hirsh, dave's mother is still around...but he has yet to see her...17% into the story...still not seen by the 36% mark...lives in an apt frank leased for her at the wernz arms *dave's father is in parkman, but he is a kind of...town drunk...left the family and he is dead to them...his name, old man herschmidt, victor herschmidt, ran off w/the wife of the family doctor, the doc's savings...but 5 years later returned, alone...and now lives in a pension home. *guinevere "gwen" french...was a few years behind dave in school, now w/a phd english or a variation, 35-yr-old...still a virgin *old man french, bob french, robert ball french...her father, high school english teacher, a poet, and the frenches live in israel, five miles away *george blanca, kenny mckeean (suicide), & herman daniel...fellow writers w/dave hirsh...although none of them are writing now...and it is a project of gwen french to theorize why--because of love... *al lowe, 32-yr-old...works for frank in jewelry store...frank is having an, has been having an affair, with al's wife geneve...al's wife, 29-yr-old, works at the mode shop across the square...for *dotty callter *edith barclay...works for frank...knows what is going on despite frank's belief that she is clueless...her father, *john barclay, works for sternutol chemical *tom alexander's wife...customer *judge steve deacon...yucky yuck mover shaker good ole boy *ned roberts...2nd national bank officer *mrs stevens and her daughter, virginia, the future bride, customers, just looking, pleased and thank you--the stevens-bookwright marriage *arthur bookwright...the future groom *harold bookwright, sales manager for the sternutol chemical company's local marketing division *t l stevens...father of the bride...runs the western auto store *frank's watch repairman...not named...a...grizzled old man *old simon clatfelter across the square, another jeweler...carried the towle line, praise jesus, now and forevermore *jane staley, edith's grandmother, 62-yr-old, goes bar-hopping w/older men *doris fredric, daughter of paul fredric...a friend of edith who lives across the way *paul fredric, president of the 2nd national bank *gus nernst and raymond cole, dewey's brother...dave meets at poolhall *girls at smitty's: martha garvey (hubie's girl)...lois wallup...(dewey's girl)...& ginnie moorehead...& rosalie sansome *smitty's extra bartender, a one-armed youth of 21 or 2, eddie *b.h. smith..."smitty" *harold alberson...edith barclay is has been dating him...a kind of dweeb *sherm ruedy, parkman chief of police *old man garvey...martha's father...runs a big old fillin station out on the west end *old lady archey...taxi customer...wantin to go over to miz burdieu's and gab awhile *old lady rugel...dave/frank's father stays at some sort of...place...and she is the...caretaker, or something...of a pension home *albie shipe, taxi driver...dave wants/gets him to split the many hours he had worked as 'manager' *clark hibbard...oregonian editorial writer, a republican, and also the state representative w/his eyes on larger things *ed delancie...owns a shop...gadget repair...where wally worked during high school... pete/tampa area *mrs mertz, the cleaning woman...knows wally's mom...mertz is a holy roller *w/albin "albie" shipe, a youth named fitzjarrald...and a boy named lee...hired by frank as taxi drivers *slim carroll...and slim's attorney...to do w/the purchase of cars...frank is a silent partner in slim's dodge-plymouth business *marg...wally's mom *betty lee hibbard *jimmy shotridge...has proposed to dawn...a freshman at the u of ill *old les, the pro at the country club *doc cost...the doc whose wife ran off w/frank & dave's old man...they family doctor, still *jim custis...man in florida that dave/'bama meet...and is part of the inspiration for a story, "the confederate" that dave writes & bob french helps get published *jim's uncle hames frye *elvie, the fat, crippled old vet known as the "custodian"...a kind of...barkeep/cook at a place *dave's old man's younger brother, roland *old lloyd monds, the livestock dealer, owns some prime real estate that frank is interested in...belief the bypass will be placed there *betty lee hibbard *dr clarence brock pirtle...at the local parkman college *harv one of two mechanics that arrive to service dave's little plymouth, left, when he went to florida for four months *mr & mrs gene alberson...own the house that dave/'bama rent...and parents of harold alberson *lorelei shaw from terre haute...girlfriend of gus nernst, one of the habitual denizens of smitty's *milton evans...gwen's 1st 'love'...from ago...high school *mrs millar...friend of mrs. hirsh...elvira *mrs ethel weller, another *cousin wilson ball...gwen's cousin...in tucson *walter, 7-yr-old boy that frank/agnes adopt *susan, shotridge's older sister, a senior at illinois, champaign *doc earl mitchell...treats 'bama *a catholic nun...at hospital/'bama *dewey cole's mother...hired as maid for dave/'bama...mrs "possum" cole, whose name was vona...biggest gossip in parkman *shardine jones...worked one day as maid for dave/'bama...but quit as she is a religious lady and they are anything but...a negro woman and a devout methodist *a chubby, pleasant little welfare man...to do w/the adoption...never named *old max thompson...parkman's previous chief of police *mildred pierce...another of the brassier factory workers...i think, not listed previously w/the other *clint and murray...two croppers who work/live on 'bama's farm where his wife *ruth...'bama's wife *johnny...ted...taylor...couple of 'bama's children *emmett...'bama's brother *jim thurston...jimmer...from 'bama's past *eddie barra...friend of clark's...clark hibbard...to do w/frank...looks after frank for the night *the greek...not named...helps frank buy land...and is a "friend of clark's" *allis...a land-owner to do w/the bypass/frank *doctor goster...gwen *rick, the one-armed marine...a kind of precursor to the one-armed man of the fugitive fame *mr beckett...magazine guy to-do w/dawn and shotridge...weight: the magazine of opinion *miss diana sue shotridge...baby of dawn/shotridge *mrs georgia sheldon...divorcee...helps agnes discover things *mary ellen in kansas city...agnes's sister *mrs florence duboise...2nd nat'l bank cashier a quote or two because men who lived their kind of lives learned early that incuriosity is, at certain times, just as important or more so than curiosity is at others. some of the relationships like the marriages of more than a few...mayhap all of them...'bama & his wife ruth...frank & agnes...'bama's wife allows him to get away w/pretty much anything he pleases and he pleases his self...frank is the same way, but whereas 'bama is from the poorer side of town...frank is a yucky-yuck...and then there's dave and the love he seeks though he never seems to find just what he is looking for...or does he?...in ginnie?
James Jones' sense of the unhurried story is similar to Herman Wouk's novels, in a way that I do not find in current writers.
Yes, I think it was unnecessarily looooong, but now that it's over, I'm reading James Jones other novel "From Here to Eternity" that's almost just as long.
His last novel, Whistle, was based on his hospital stay in Memphis, Tennessee, recovering from his wounds.