A review of "Shade of the Raintree"

Review by Donald Newlove

Kirkus Reviews,  1/1/94,  p.46.

"Shade of the Raintree"
by Larry Lockridge
Viking/Penguin, $27.95h/$14.95p, 500p
Hardcover ISBN 0-670-85440-9
Paperback ISBN: 0140158715

      The son of Ross Lockridge, Jr., who committed suicide at 33 following the publication of his inventive, 1066-page novel Raintree County (1948), cuts his father a new suit and redresses an injured great American writer.

      Few readers know much more about Ross Lockridge, Jr., than was depicted in John Leggett's dual biography (Ross and Tom, 1974) of Lockridge and Thomas Heggan, the author of Mister Roberts (1977), a book about two literary suicides who seemingly could not face vast success. Leggett's Lockridge, a motormouth egomaniac, we now see was under-researched and as far off as a funhouse mirror. Larry Lockridge here faces the double task of writing a biography of his father and of finding out what drove him to a ruthless act of self-destruction. In doing this, he has produced what amounts to a major work on depression: a superb analytic description of clinical depression as it was understood vaguely in 1948 and more fully today. At the same time, he describes a great American tragedy, the story of a midwestern hero of great gifts who inherits the spirit of Whitman but comes to grief against a stone wall of materialism built by Houghton Mifflin, MGM, and the Book of the Month Club, to shrink the hero's great work down to salability. The hero's tragic flaw is "competitiveness." Known as "A-plus Lockridge" because of his unrivaled scholarly achievements, a master of many languages, a writer possessed of photographic memory who could type 100 words a minute, an athlete who married the most beautiful and intelligent woman he'd ever met, Lockridge set out to surpass Joyce, Wolfe, Melville, and Hemingway only to pull his country's commercial monoliths down on his head, with MGM then erecting a terrible movie as his marker.

      An immensely moving book, deserving of the Pulitzer Prize that went to James Gould Cozzens's dreary Guard of Honor in 1948.

Originally Published in the Kirkus Reviews,  1/1/94,  p.46

Article Posted by permission of the Author © 1994 Donald Newlove


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