Some Came Running
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Some Came Running is a novel by James Jones, published in 1958. It was Jones's second published novel, following his award-winning debut From Here to Eternity. It is the story of a war veteran with literary aspirations who returns in 1948 to his hometown of Parkman, Indiana, after a failed writing career. It is a thinly disguised autobiographical novel of Jones's experiences in his hometown of Robinson, Illinois, immediately after returning from World War II.
|Publisher||Charles Scribner's Sons|
|January 10, 1958|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Pages||1,266 (first edition, hard)|
|Preceded by||From Here to Eternity (1951)|
|Followed by||The Pistol (1959)|
Dave Hirsh is a cynical Army veteran and an occasionally published but generally unsuccessful pre-war writer, who winds up in his hometown of Parkman after being put on a bus in Chicago while intoxicated. Ginnie Moorehead, a woman of seemingly loose morals and poor education, has taken the same bus.
Hirsh had left Parkman 19 years before when his older brother Frank placed him in a charity boarding school, and is still embittered. Frank has since married well, inherited a jewelry business from the father of his wife Agnes, and made their social status his highest priority. Dave's return threatens this, so Frank makes a fruitless stab at arranging respectability, introducing him to his friend Professor French and his beautiful daughter Gwen, a schoolteacher. Dave is entranced by Gwen, falling in love with her even though she rejects him, interested only in Dave's "mind" and undeveloped talent as a writer.
Dave moves in different social circles. He befriends Bama Dillert, a hard-drinking southern gambler who has serendipitously settled in Parkman. Dave moves in with Bama, and they regularly gamble together, sometimes going on road trips to do so. Several young, aimless WWII veterans and Frank's daughter Dawn's boyfriend, Wally Dennis, an aspiring writer himself, hang around Frank and Bama in Parkman's bars. Two factors seem to offer Dave hope and redemption: he takes a fatherly interest in his niece, Dawn, and continues to try to romance Gwen. Despite his somewhat notorious reputation, Dave is basically a good, honest man, well aware of his own shortcomings. His cynicism is often a mask to hide the pain of rejection.
Though Ginnie is not his social or intellectual match, he eventually sees her basic goodness and responds to her unconditional love. Saddened by Gwen's rejection and Bama's decline from alcoholism and diabetes, disgusted by Frank's hypocrisy and social climbing, and conflicted by his feelings for Ginnie, Dave nonetheless marries Ginnie and goes to work in a defense plant while continuing to work on his writing. As Dave tires of his work at the defense plant and Ginnie becomes more materialistic, their marriage goes downhill and Dave decides to leave town. As he walks through town at night during Parkman's Centennial Celebration, Ginnie's jealous, drunken ex-husband, who had followed her to Parkman, stalks and shoots Dave in the face, killing him (in the 1958 film version, Ginnie's ex is a Chicago hoodlum, and Dave is only wounded, while Ginnie is shot in the back and killed after throwing herself in front of Dave).
The book's plot, taking place in peacetime civilian life, is framed by two short war episodes printed in Italics: the prologue depicting Hirsh's experiences in the Second World War, describing Germans attacking ("They came running through the fog..."), and the epilogue having Wally Dennis, after being rejected by Dawn, who had married a more socially prominent young man, fighting Chinese Communists ("They came running through the paddy fields...") and getting killed in the Korean War. Wally's last thought before being killed in a grenade explosion is of the manuscript he would never complete.
The book was savaged by the critics. Orville Prescott of The New York Times called it "a fictional disaster, clumsily written, crudely repetitious, ineptly unconvincing in many scenes, cheaply vulgar throughout. 'Some Came Running' is also so gamey and rancid in its concentration on sex that it seems like the work of an adolescent obsessed by the Kinsey reports. It is a very great pity." Whitney Balliett of The New Yorker called the book "Twelve hundred and sixty-six pages of flawlessly sustained tedium." Robert Brustein in Commentary called it "a very bad book indeed, self-conscious, discursive, ineptly plotted, and clumsily written ... The reader is battered into helpless insensibility by Jones' analyses, explanations, theories, and opinions." David Sanders of The Washington Post was somewhat more positive, writing that while "A 1266-page novel inevitably reveals a whole catalogue of the writer's weaknesses ... Jones' strengths are genuinely impressive nevertheless. He can make ordinary human beings seem extraordinarily important. He can give meaning to the most apparently trivial utterances ... Most important of all, he never loses sight of his scope, the large design which drives him to his writing."
Due to frequently "misspelled" words and punctuation errors, critics were generally harsh, not recognizing that such elements were a conscious style choice by Jones to evoke the provincialism of the novel's characters and setting.
- "Books Today". The New York Times: 21. January 10, 1958.
- Towns called "Parkman" actually exist in Maine, Ohio and Wyoming, but there is no town by that name in Indiana.
- Prescott, Orville (January 10, 1958). "Books of The Times". The New York Times: 21.
- Balliett, Whitney (January 18, 1958). "Books". The New Yorker: 102.
- Brustein, Robert (January 1958). "Some Came Running": 366.
- Sanders, David (January 12, 1958). "1266 Pages Toward Eternity". The Washington Post: E7.