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FUTUM COMMUNICATIONS. INC Data Processing Typesetting Printing Mailing 512-389-1500 FAX 512-389-0867 3019 Alvin DeVane, Suite 500 Austin, Texas 78741 Withtut an appointment he turned up in the legendary Maxwell Perkins’s office at Scribner’s with the manuscript in a hatbox. He knew Perkins was the editor of Wolfe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Lardner. Perkins did not accept the novel, but was absorbed by a paragraph in a covering letter that Jim’s next book would pertain to life in the pre-war Army. Perkins gave him a $500 advance on what was to become Eternity. Some of the most intriguing of Jim’s letters are to Perkins, who died before the completion of Eternity, and to Perkins’s successor, Burroughs Mitchell candid and moving letters about writing and literature. To Mitchell on Perkins’s death in ’47: “I have had the feeling for a long time that I should come to New York, that he might die, that I should not selfishly but for writing go where he was because there was so much that I could learn from him. But as I said, life does not ever put two such things together; his time of that was with Tom Wolfe and not with me.” He worked for five years on Eternity, traveling across America in a jeep and trailer which Lowney Handy’s husband had bought him, stopping for long periods in trailer camps from Florida to Arizona. It was not easy for him. “For almost four solid years,” he wrote Mitchell in ’47, “I’ve done nothing much but write and haven’t earned a penny at it, and have not published a word, and see no immediate prospect of doing so. Truly, there seems to be no place at all in our society for the artist who is really in earnest. And all the dumbjohns always hollering about what’s wrong with art in our time.” Anyone who has just completed a novel which has seemed such lonely and unending and wounding labor might appreciate how he felt on finally finishing Eternity: “I am like a rubber band that has been stretched over two nails for a long time and left there; you take it down from the nails and it hangs together all right. But if you try to stretch it again, even the least tiniest bit, it will crumble. Not snap, or break, or burst, or pop. Crumble.” Literally overnight he was rich and famous, having achieved what Styron in his Foreword concedes all writers secretly yearn for: commercial and critical success. He came to New York for these halcyon days, making the literary rounds with Bill Styron and Norman Mailer and his other fellow writers of that day. “I guess I’m really a provincial at heart,” he wrote Lowney Handy, “but I guess everybody is, who is honest. I have been using your technique of the cornfed boy fresh in the city since I got here and can get anything I want from anybody.” Next was Some Came Running, savaged by the critics, and then The Pistol, which he claimed to have done to show the reviewers he could write straight and lyrical English. He broke with Lowney and married Gloria Mossolini, a beautiful young actress and fledgling writer, and they moved to Paris. From these European years came some good work, and some questionable, but preem inently what might have been his life’s masterpiece, the Guadalcanal combat novel The Thin Red Line, about which Romain Gary would comment: “It is essentially an epic love poem about the human predicament and like all great books it leaves one with a feeling of wonder and hope.” Jim and Gloria returned from Europe to Sagaponack, Long Island, in 1972 and bought an old farmhouse there. It was surrounded by potato fields and they christened it “Chateau Spud.” They wanted their children to go to American schools, and both Kaylie and Jamie attended East Hampton High. Jim wrote a splendid personal and historical text to an illustrated book, WWII, among his best words, but mostly he was giving himself to Whistle. Until he grew seriously ill these were good years for him. He had always been achingly American, and he loved watching his children grow up in that milieu, relished too the lunches at Bobby Van’s in Bridgehampton, our beach cookouts and softball games and leisurely dinners with close friends in his grand country kitchen. Some nights he would bring out one of his big Padron cigars and read us aloud from his work that day on Whistle. Gloria is one of the great women of America, and their marriage was without peer the best I have ever seen. As a man Jim had a dark view of human life, its cruelties and shames, which he expressed in his fiction. He had little patience with the glib and easy optimisms; existence was too dire and complex for that. “That’s the perennial problem of a writer: of distinguishing between true affirmation, which is not sentimental, and the false affirmation parroted by all the affirmation-shouters, which is so sentimental it makes you sick to hear it. There is no reason that I can see at present why we should smugly believe that we will endure and prevail just because we are men.” All this may seem discordant, his old editor Burroughs Mitchell observed, with his personal life in his adult years, “a vigorously enjoyed life, filled with family happiness and many friendships,” in which a man like Jim “will try exceptionally hard to make the most of every good thing he can find in his life time.” He was happy on having returned home. As the end approached he worked harder than any writer I had ever known, sometimes 10 or 12 hours a day in his attic above the potato fields with the distant prospect of the ocean beyond. Sometimes I had a deep, secret intuition that he did not really want to finish Whistle, that the killing off of the old infantry company was coincident and a presage of his own death. Yet he fought to the finish, and those of us who knew and loved him then honored him for it. Twelve years now after his death, I sense that Jim’s hard-earned work is rightfully taking its place in the pantheon of American letters. Among its other attributes, this collection should serve as an invaluable example to aspiring writers: the hard work, the loneliness, the heart’s commitment. “I would like to leave books behind me,” he wrote to his brother as early as ’42, “to let people know that I have lived. I’d like to think that people would read them avidly, as I have read so many and would feel the sadness and frustration and joy and love I tried to put in them, that people would think about that guy James Jones and wish they had known that guy who could write like that.” He belived this. “I write,” he once told an interviewer, “to reach eternity.” East Dallas Printing Company Full Service Union Printing 211 S. Peak Dallas, Tx 75226 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19