Reading About Novelist James Jones

I have been reading the galleys of a memoir that will come out in September. It is a book that has nothing to do with the Peace Corps, and was written by Kaylie Jones, the daughter of the novelist James Jones. You might have seen the movie made of her first book, A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries which starred Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Hershey.

This book is again about her famous father, and their early life together. Jones died when she was 16. However, what interests me is when he was writing his first and most famous novel, From Here to Eternity.

This is a great war novel (you have seen the very good movie of it, I’m sure) and with The Naked And The Dead, the two best books (plus, of course, Catch 22) about WWII.

Anyway, I read both of these novels when I was a teenager and while the prose is not perfect (unlike Mailer’s book) it is a better read, a pulsing  book, and a book you want to write yourself when you finish reading it. (Particularly great is the long Stockade chapter).

Anyway, I don’t want to talk about the book.

Jones wrote his book after the war when he had gone home to Marshall, Illinois, where he was from. (Jones was actually from Robinson, Illinois, and that only matters to people like myself, who are from Illinois.) He wrote the novel at the Handy Colony in Marshall. Lowney and Harry Handy had supported Jones through his many drafts of the book and Lowney had mentored and edited and encouraged Jones, and she also was his mistress while he was writing the novel.

But I don’t want to talk about that either.

What I want to do is tell you a story that is in daughter’s book, a story she says is well known (but I never heard it) and that is while Jones was writing From Here to Eternity, he worked for a bit in a trailer park in Arizona. The book took him four years to write.  He had a $500 advance from Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s , and to made ends meet, he helped move trailers around the park.

Years later, perhaps in the late fifties, while he and Gloria (his wife, Kaylie’s mother) were in Los Angeles on a business trip, they went to a fancy party at an elegant restaurant with valet parking. The valet who took the keys from my father suddenly said, “Jim, is that you?”

“Hi, Fred,” Jim answers evenly, as if they’d seen each other yesterday. They shook hands, and Jim introduced his young wife to  his old friend. It turned out they’d worked together in the trailer park.

“Hey, you ever finish that book you were writing?” Fred asked.
“Yeah, Fred, yeah, I did.”
Well did it get published?” What’s it called?”
“It’s called From Here to Eternity,” Jim said.

The price of fame. The price of prose.

2 Comments

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  • What a delightful posting about Kaylie Jones’ new book! I am a fan of hers.

    I enjoyed your telling of the story about her father, Jim Jones, and his chance meeting with his trailer park buddy, Fred; as well as your reference to Lowney Handy and her support of Jim Jones, while he was writing “From Here to Eternity.”

    I first learned about Kaylie Jones’ books when I read an article about her in the Madison (WI) “Capital Times” by author Michael James Moore. (See http://www.madison.com/archives/read.php?ref=/tct/2004/05/21/0405210104.php ) Moore was very impressed with her. Based on his high praise, I started to read her books.

    Ironically, just yesterday, Mr. Moore posted another article titled, “Remembering James Jones and Lowney Handy: How a Gifted Older Woman Gave Birth to a Literary Giant.” I think you’ll enjoy reading it — http://michaeljamesmoore.blogspot.com/2009/08/remembering-james-jones-lowney-handy.html.

    Thanks for telling your visitors about Kaylie Jones’ new memoir. I haven’t read it yet. But I intend to — very soon.

    Julia Schopick

  • thanks, Julia…Thee are a few of us out there who are still reading James Jones. Not many, I’m sure. But he may come back into favor, given all the wars we are in at the moment. It was always the grunts who loved his writing.

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