Monday, June 23, 2014

Behold! Raintree County is the Great American Novel!

In March 1948 I was a high-school sophomore in a country town when I read about the suicide of Ross Lockridge Jr., whose sprawling masterpiece Raintree County had just topped the best-seller lists. (Things happened more slowly in 1948: the book had been published two months earlier. Today it would jump to Number One on publication day, thanks to Amazon's pre-order button.)

I had no great interest in American literature at the time, being more concerned with the rambunctious adventures of Simon Templar, the "Saint" of many novels by Leslie Chartris. But I was stunned to realize that the height of success and the depth of despair might fall upon someone at the same moment.

It wasn't until some years later that I actually got around to reading the book, and indeed I'm not entirely sure when that was--not at university, not in the U.S. Army, but some time between 1958 and 1968, when I was serving my own apprenticeship in the writing of fiction. I was blown away by the experience. I thought that Raintree County was the best thing I'd ever read. Now I've taken it up again, and I'm astonished to find that it has pretty much dropped off the literary radar. So I have started on my web page to celebrate it: Behold! Raintree County is the Great American Novel!

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