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Raintree County [Paperback]

Ross Lockridge
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2007
Throughout a single day in 1892, John Shawnessy recalls the great moments of his life--from the love affairs of his youth in Indiana, to the battles of the Civil War, to the politics of the Gilded Age, to his homecoming as schoolteacher, husband, and father. Shawnessy is the epitome of the place and period in which he lives, a rural land of springlike women, shady gamblers, wandering vagabonds, and soapbox orators. Yet here on the banks of the Shawmucky River, which weaves its primitive course through Raintree County, Indiana, he also feels and obeys ancient rhythms. A number-one bestseller when it was first published in 1948, this powerful novel is a compelling vision of 19th-century America with timeless resonance today.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 1088 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (1 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556527101
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556527104
  • Product Dimensions: 20.9 x 14.1 x 4.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,330,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"An achievement of art and purpose, a cosmically brooding book full of significance and beauty." -- The New York Times "[A] candidate for that mythical honor, the Great American Novel, Raintree County displays unflagging industry [and] a ... magnificent vitality." -- Saturday Review "No myth is more imposing than the Great American Novel; but if it is truly unattainable, I believe that Ross Lockridge made closer approach than any other writer has, before or since." -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram "My favorite novel of all time is Raintree County . It's about American journalism, patriotism, and a star-crossed love affair a hundred years ago. Like the Bible, you can pick it up, read any page, and gain something. It's poetry. Forget the movie, if you saw it, the book is something entirely different." --Edna Buchanan, author, You Only Die Twice and Cold Case Squad "The powerful currents and depth of this great swollen river of a book remain irresistible. Raintree County doesn't have to be the great American novel to be an American classic and a classic expression of the American dream; a time and place in our history are made permanent in this book." --Richard Dyer, Boston Globe "Just how good is Raintree County ? ... Looking back at it, one is struck by the strength of its prose and the life of its characters. The Civil War section alone, well over 200 pages and the heart of the book, justifies the extravagant Great American Novel claims some critics have made for it... Had Ross Lockridge, Jr. lived, he might well have changed the direction of American writing--for that, and nothing less, was his intention." --Bruce Cook, Chicago Tribune "A work that should rank with Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel as a landmark in American fiction." -- Philadelphia Inquirer "[An] extraordinary work ... I have reread Raintree County at least once a year. It is a book that I, at least, have grown into, still grow into." -- Detroit News

About the Author

Ross Lockridge, Jr., was born in 1914 in Bloomington, Indiana. Lockridge committed suicide at the age of 33 in his hometown, two months after his only novel was published to great critical and popular acclaim. Herman Wouk is the bestselling author of "The Caine Mutiny," "Don't Stop the Carnival," "War and Rememberance," and "The Winds of War."

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A great American novel 31 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback
The "great American novel" is something that is often spoken of but rarely seen. Critics use that sobriquet far too often for books that don't merit more than a passing glance. But occasionally, a novel appears that is a good candidate for that phrase. And it has just been republished in a new edition!

Raintree County, "which had no boundaries in time and space, where lurked musical and strange names and mythical and lost peoples, and which was itself only a name musical and strange," by Ross Lockridge Jr., was published in 1948 to critical and popular acclaim. This 1,066-page novel attempted to translate the American experience to paper through the eyes and experiences of a seemingly banal character, John Wickliff Shawnessy, "pagan and Pilgrim, poet and poem, idealist and idea" (Charles Lee, writing in the New York Times in January, 1948). Over a period of 24 hours, as Waycross, Indiana, celebrates the Fourth of July, 1892, Shawnessy looks back on his life since 1844, through a series of flashbacks, interspersed with narrative of the celebratory day. He sees his youth, his first experience of pure feminine beauty, his first loves, then the great American tragedy: the Civil War. As the book goes on, we follow this Leopold Bloom of the Midwest through his peregrinations, until the past rejoins the present and the day ends.

It's hard to sum up such a book. It's the story of a quest; a quest for the sacred tree of life, the raintree. A quest for origins; for the origins of life and of one man's life. It's a story of a man accepting the fate of death, "But if we could only resign ourselves to death, complete death, how much happier we'd be!" It's a story of a man and his family, his loves, his losses, the war (the Civil War) and how it forms his character.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Raintree revisited 13 Mar 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Wonderful to obtain this long out-of-print masterpiece. Truly the Great American Novel. I have read and re-read and replaced the paperbacks over the years and now I have something to treasure. Read it!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American epic. 24 July 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I read this book many, many years ago when I was 18, which is just about the perfect age to read it. While it is a magnificent piece of writing, and a uniquely American epic tale, it is essentially a young man's story. It is the story of America in the later half of the 19th century, and its movement forward into our present. It is rich and complex. It is filled with intellectual games and human passions. It's a pity about the author's suicide, but he knew he would never surpass it.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  41 reviews
55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Personal Connection 8 May 2000
By Tom Heinz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I had heard as a child about Ross Lockridge and his great novel "Raintree County." My great-grandmother, Bessie Shirk, was a local historian, writer and poetess in New Castle, Indiana. New Castle is in Henry County, or as Ross Lockridge named it, Raintree County.
Ross Lockridge spoke with Bessie often to gather historical data for his book as it pertained to the county. So when I finally picked up the book to read it when I was around 20, it was with some trepidation, from the standpoint that I was hoping it would measure up to everything I had heard. It did.
It's been called "the great American novel", "the great flawed American novel", "a masterpiece", "sweeping and epic", and so on. It is all those things.
From a technical standpoint, the book is too long. It could lose 200-300 pages and still be as good as it is. However, does one really want to lose any of Lockridge's language, discriptions, and evocation? Not I.
Much has been written about the book. But I really think you have to go to Raintree County and feel what it's like to be there. Stand up on a ridge looking over the Blue River valley on a summer evening just after the sun's gone down. There is a magical mysticism that radiates out of the land with a positive energy. What Lockridge did was to capture that energy in his book.
This isn't a must read for everyone, although I agree with some of the reviewers that it should be taught in schools, but only for advanced Lit classes. What Lockridge does--while brilliantly describing the historical period of pre- and post-Civil War America--is show us that human nature and behavior are constant throughout time.
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Most Beautiful Suicide Note 21 Feb 2005
By Poe ballantine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Raintree County is the anatomy of a fall from Paradise-with all the Edenic metaphors placed in a fictional county in Indiana-and the process by which it is regained. The structure and scope of the book are extraordinary, a system of telling and suspension that turns one day into a hundred years, all hinged upon the American Civil War (and the allegorical death of the principal character). Like another great contemporary American novel, All The King's Men, Raintree County was built upon the wreckage of a failed epic prose poem. Also, like Robert Penn Warren's glittering classic, Ross Lockridge's best-selling masterpiece deals with a gifted primary character caught up in the vortex of human history (though Penn Warren was more interested in the problem of power than he was in the cataloging of the life of Huey Long).

Raintree County should be a standard of 20th Century American literature. It is perhaps the greatest novel ever written. I'm mystified as to why it doesn't make Random House's Top 100 Novels List. I think in all honesty that Raintree County is too straightforward, too compassionate, too wise, too loving, too optimistic, too gently humorous, and too accessible to please the moldy and myopic listmakers. Really "great" books, as everyone knows, are dry game puzzles, smug literary fogs, brutal crayon travelogues, or ancient misanthropic sphinxes that museum directors and tenured professors of the academies alike can dust off occasionally without fear of ever having to update their pamphlets.

The texture style and meter of this work is astoundingly lyrical yet clear. To wit: "The world is still full of divinity and strangeness, Mr. Shawnessy said. The scientist stops, where all men do, at the doors of birth and death. He knows no more than you and I why a seed remembers the oak of twenty million years ago, why dust acquires the form of a woman, why we behold the earth in space and time. He hasn't yet solved the secret of a single name upon the earth. We may pluck the nymph from the river, but we won't pluck the river from ourselves: this coiled divinity is still all murmurous and strange. There are sacred places everywhere. The world is still man's druid grove, where he wanders hunting for the Tree of Life."

As long as I have a mind, I won't forget this profound and wonderful book or the characters who inhabit it: Perfessor Stiles with his pince-nez and Malacca cane, the cigar-chewing bighearted phony senator from Indiana, Garwood Jones, sweet Nell Gaither, the dark lost and deranged Susannah Drake. Carefully researched (it took seven years to write), it is also an excellent freshener on historical events of the nineteenth century, especially the Civil War. Contained within, for all you philosophiles, is the added bonus of cogent and detailed arguments for free will over predetermination, the triumph of spirit over matter, a solution to the riddle of the Many and the One, an explanation of the Word, and many more.

Born four years before J.D. Salinger, who still breathes at this writing, Ross Lockridge Jr. ended his life by carbon monoxide poisoning March 6th, 1948, two months after the publication of his one and only novel. He was thirty-three. He left behind a wife and four children. His second son, Larry, five years old at the time of his father's death, has written a book (Shade of the Raintree) attempting to explain what he calls "the greatest single mystery in American letters." He largely blames success in combination with a "biological (possibly genetic) predisposition to depression" along with "suicide-personality disorder (narcissistic)." It's easy to see why a John Kennedy O'Toole battering his manuscript (Confederacy of Dunces) against the unbreachable ramparts of Harcourt Brace and Get Lost, might do himself in (and then of course win a Pulitzer). But to receive a Harvard scholarship, publish an immediately successfully and lavishly acclaimed book which wins several major prizes including an MGM contract, and then to take your life as a proclaimed lover of life and a protector of four children, is a riddle beyond the ken of my meager imagination.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the most powerful novel I've read. 30 Oct 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Raintree County is sweeping in scope, almost 1100 pages long, and yet it pulls the reader through it with prose so compelling that one would have to be struck dead to lay the book down unread.
Lockridge tells the story of John Wickliff Shawnessy, a child of his age, growing up in ante-bellum Indiana. Told in a series of flashbacks, the novel opens on the Fourth of July 1892, when Shawnessy is 53. The holiday's focus is Shawnessy's reunion with old pals Cash Carney, U.S. Senator Garwood Jones, and Professor Jerusalem W. Stiles.
As Lockridge takes the reader through the events of this day, Shawnessy's friends arrive and depart, each evoking for him memories of his early years. Through this prism the reader is immersed in images of pre-Civil War rural America, the upheaval of the conflict, America's 1876 Centennial celebration, and the excesses of the Gilded Age. Shawnessy passes through it all, "life's young American", a scholar, a romantic, a poet, and an athlete.
Lockridge's imagery and descriptive power are truly matched to an author seeking to sculpt the Great American Novel. His evocative use of language is almost unsurpassed among modern American writers - only Thomas Wolfe approaches him. His characters are powerful and will stay with you always, lingering almost palpably like the memories of earliest childhood.
Curiously, only Nell Gaither, Shawnessy's lifelong flame, fails to march from the pages along with the other denizens of Raintree County, Indiana. Suzanna Drake, Nell's rival for Shawnessy, is a beautiful, brazen, and tormented child of the South. Garwood B. Jones, future U.S. Senator, is Shawnessy's boyhood foil, a garrulous and wickedly charming rake. And Professor Jerusalem Webster Stiles is the rake-thin, brilliant and corrupted itinerant who lit for two years in Raintree County as sole preceptor and administrator of the short-lived Pedee Academy.
Come to this book when you are young and it will never leave you. As Lockridge noted on the flyleaf: "Hard roads and wide will run through Raintree County. You will hunt it on the map, and it won't be there."
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius! 26 Oct 2005
By A Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In preface to my review, I have to say that my favorite writers are Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Boll, Arthur Rimbaud, etc.

Many of the reviews here have bandied about the name of Thomas Wolfe (whose "Look Homeward, Angel" was brilliant); and the comparison is richly deserved; but the most insightful comparison came from the person who said it reminded him of an American version of Tolstoy's "War and Peace".

I've actually read "War and Peace". Lockridge's "Raintree County" rises to that level--and, in my estimation--surpasses it. I love the Russians--Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev. And I love Walt Whitman and Ross Lockridge for the same reason. They all have what the Spanish call "duende," what the American blacks clamor to express by the word "soul". These aren't weak, spineless, effete Victorians afraid of beauty, passion, shame and awkward emotions.

They cast light into the dark corners of the human soul and throw open man's collective experience for all to see--something rarely achieved in typically dryer Anglo-Saxon literature.

Ross Lockridge's "Raintree County" astounded me. It left me wondering how this great American genius has been ignored, neglected. The only thing I can think of is that Lockridge makes the fatal mistake of being honest, of writing too accurately about the time-period, of not lying and indulging in historical revisionism. As a result, spineless readers wince when the "N" word is used, or terms like "pickannies," "darkies" or various other period vulgarities are employed by despised side-characters.

For this reason geniuses like Booth Tarkington are banned and suppressed.

It's sad. They want to revise the past and make it "acceptable" for modern audiences. But if you sanitize, you gut, you neuter, you destroy the hard edges which give the time-period texture, verisimilitude. (I mean, if slaves were well-treated why did we fight the Civil War?) But modern hacks would have writers keep all profanities out of it, re-write it so that nothing crude or insensitive made its way in.

If you want lies, watch a Hollywood movie, read a trash novel; if you want genius, poetry, brilliant insights and literary talent, give "Raintree County" a try. Maybe, with enough of us protesting, the prude schoolmarms with tenure at universities will be nudged from their slumber and realize that they have neglected one of the titanic achievements of modern American literature.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The quintessentially GOOD American novel 28 Jun 2003
By Daniel Myers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When averring that Raintree County is such a "Good" book, I find myself searching for words to accurately convey my meaning. The lyrical gift of Mr. Lockridge is "good," though not great as is the case with the brilliant Thomas Wolfe, the American novelist his writing most resembles. The story, complete with flashbacks, is engaging through all its over 1,000 pages. The philosophical sections are good as well, and the "Perfesser" Stiles is one of the most comically and wittily astute Menckenesque characters in all of American fiction.
One thing that I certainly do NOT mean by "good" is that the book is some sort of sentimental whitewash of American history and archetypal American characters. They are presented here in all their selfishness, avarice and mean-spiritedness. Yet, the novel ultimately has such a Whitmanesque all-embracing quality that these human traits dissolve into the rich tapestry of the story, which I found a page-turner despite its length.
Ultimately, the novel of which this book most reminds me is not an American, or even English, one at all. It is Tolstoy's War And Peace. These books both narrate the human capacity for evil and good, for love and hate, the chaos caused by the greatest war either of the two countries had fought at the time, the enduring value of friendship, all spread out over a vast panorama of intricate relations. In short, Raintree County is America's most epic novel: Not the greatest perhaps, but the most epic.
But there's something more: At one point in the book (p. 934 in my edition) Shawnessy reflects that, "A human life had a dimension that wasn't perfectly understood." Through reading this book, one somehow comes away with the feeling that one has at least brushed against the boundaries of this mysterious dimension.---No small feat, this.
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