Saturday, April 25, 2015

Birthdays: Ross Lockridge, Jr. and Howard R. Garis

Two of today's birthdays celebrants are subjects of favorite books of mine. John Leggett's Ross and Tom is a deeply moving account of the lives and suicides of Ross Lockridge (1914-1948, pictured above) and Tom Heggen (1918-1949), two best-selling "one book wonders" (Raintree County and Mister Roberts, respectively) of the late Forties.

I know that Lockridge's family disputes some of Leggett's conclusions and that Lockridge's son Larry has written his own biography, Shade of the Raintree, which I own and mean to read. But Leggett's book is beautiful and empathetic and will not be superseded; a well-written biography retains authority even when some of its facts and interpretations are later overruled.

Lockridge and Heggen were both Houghton Mifflin authors, although they missed meeting each other. Without giving too much away, I can say that the moment when Heggen learns of Lockridge's suicide is the page in Ross and Tom that haunts me the most.

The second book is, like Larry Lockridge's, a family memoir: Roger Garis's completely delightful My Father Was Uncle Wiggily, about growing up in a family of popular children's writers, including the indefatigable paterfamilias Howard R. Garis (1873-1962), whose volumes for the Stratemeyer Syndicate probably number in the hundreds (it is difficult to trace all the pseudonyms). The title of this book first caught my eye as a kid because, of course, I owned the famous Uncle Wiggily board-game ("The Evil Pipsisewah says, Go back three spaces!").

It's a great read, but there is more to the story: a few years ago Roger Garis's daughter Leslie published her own family memoir, House of Happy Endings, which details the less charming aspects of her grandparents, the mental struggles of her father (who only survived Howard by five years), and the burden-bearing of her mother.

Ross And Tom: Two American Tragedies

Raintree County (Ross Lockridge)

Shade of the Raintree, Centennial Edition: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr., author of Raintree County

Mister Roberts: A Novel (Classics of Naval Literature)

My Father Was Uncle Wiggily: The Story of the Remarkable Garis Family

House of Happy Endings: A Memoir

Uncle Wiggily Board Game

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