There is nothing a writer knows how to do better than not write. I’ve heard variations of this idiom many times, and if it is true, then I, most certainly, am a writer. Even tonight, with the best of intentions and a 6 week old New Year’s resolution behind me, I sit at the keyboard, sipping bourbon and . . . paying bills, checking email, organizing tax paperwork. Pretty much anything but the thing I most desire to do. Write.
Oddly, this brings me to my latest read, which is a very good thing since I don’t have the money to pay bills or taxes at the moment. From Here To Eternity was the 1951 debut novel of James Jones. It centers on member of Company G in the autumn of 1941, just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entrance into World War II. The primary characters are First Sergeant Milt Warden and Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt or Prew.
I have to say that I did not enjoy this novel very much, and at least part of that fault lies with the manner in which I read it. In my effort to find a way to include reading in my unstable schedule, I tried reading for 15 or 20 minutes at a time during my lunch break. In retrospect, I would absolutely advise against this method. I realize that part of the pleasure of reading is losing myself in another world, another time, in other people’s lives and struggles. Fifteen minutes barely let me remember where I was the last time I was reading. I was only able to skim the surface of the interactions, forgetting names, places and situations. I was certainly not able to jump into the rushing river of the plot and be carried away to the end . . . which, by the way, I did not get to for approximately five months. That’s unbelievable in my world!
The other reason I was unable to fully immerse myself in the book was my inability to relate to the main characters, particularly Prew. At first I thought if I could just get a little further in the book, he would reveal himself to me. He would show me something that was a reflection of me. But I struggled through most of the book thinking how I just don’t understand men. Or maybe it was the military. There was rampant drinking and testosterone fueled fighting (though I imagine the drinking supplied at least some liquid encouragement.) There were affairs with women you aren’t supposed to love (a prostitute, the commanding officer’s wife.) I think what bothered me the most was both main characters’ refusal to do the things that would make them happiest. Warden hated the idea of becoming an officer. He was constantly referred to as the best soldier in the Army by superiors and subordinates alike. He was immediately accepted into the program and the future happiness of his affair hinged on his becoming an officer. In spite of all that, he just couldn’t become “one of them.”
Even more infuriating was Prew. I understand that even though he was a very talented boxer, he didn’t want to join the boxing team of his new Company. He was haunted by a sparring match where he blinded one of his friends, so I can grasp how that might turn someone away from something that once gave satisfaction. But then he also turned away from his bugling. In his recent Company prior to the start of the novel, he was First Bugler. He played taps at Arlington and was known, not only on the islands but in the states as the best bugler in the Army. The author gives insight into the passion Prew has for his art, the transformative power it has over him and the people who hear it. It is unfathomable to me that he could just walk away from that. Just not play anymore. For no good reason.
Until I typed that first paragraph, and I unexpectedly saw myself in Prew. Not doing the thing I love. For no good reason. Hello, mirror.