In 1948, Ross Lockridge's novel Raintree County was a number one bestseller and acclaimed literary work. Yet, at the height of his fame at age 33, Lockridge killed himself. In a brilliant biography, his son Larry seeks understanding. Simultaneous release with the re-publication by Penguin of the long unavailable Raintree County.
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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. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
Raintree County , a first novel published in 1948 by Houghton Mifflin, was a sensation. It won the $150,000 MGM novel prize, was a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and topped the bestseller lists. Three months after its publication, its 33-year-old author Ross Lockridge Jr. killed himself. His son, who was only five-years-old at his father's death, here brings a new perspective to the tragedy. The family saved everything written to and by Ross Jr., even the novelist's student notes secretly exchanged in high school classrooms. The younger Lockridge thus draws on a wealth of family letters, diaries and, most importantly, on Raintree County itself in depicting his father as a man whose faith in himself as a writer wavered until he could no longer handle the stress of actual publication. The novelist grew up and remained in Indiana; his father Ross Sr. was a local historian, his mother Elsie a strong and supportive presence. Ross Jr.'s wife Vernice bore his four children, typed the more than 2000 manuscript pages of Raintree County and desperately tried to stave off his depression. His son, who teaches Romantic literature at New York University, is a passionate admirer of his father's novel though he struggles valiantly to approach it objectively. One senses that the novelist would be proud of his son: he has created a full portrait of life in the Midwest between the wars and of the collision of depression and the creative mind. It remains to be seen whether this insightful and affectionate biography will bring his father's novel a new audience. Now out of print, Raintree County will be reissued in paperback by Penguin simultaneously with the publication of this biography.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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