Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Author Calls Own Ypsilanti-Themed Book "Piece of Crap"

An anonymous reader has contributed another volume to the shelf of books about Ypsilanti: "Willow Run," by Glendon Swartout. Review:

"Willow Run was Glendon's very first published novel, in 1943, written after putting in nine-hour days as a riveter at the famous B-24 bomber plant outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He wrote it in six months, for he knew there was a market for a patriotic book about the war effort on the home front during this biggest of all wars. Sure enough, he got a small advance from a publisher and the novel was hurried into print after a page one rewrite. Glendon always acknowledged it in his backlist of titles, but he was embarrassed by Willow Run, referring to it sourly as "a piece of crap" in a short autobiography he wrote the year before he died, which is included in the latest compilation of his short stories, Easterns and Westerns, to be published by Michigan State University Press, summer of 2001."

"Willow Run is a novel about blue-collar workers at this defense plant and is somewhat heavy on win-the-war speeches and lacks story and character development. While the book rhapsodizes about the details of building airplanes and a bit obvious in its symbolism, it does give a glimpse into the mind of factory workers under stress. Willow Run remains an amateurish first effort by a 23-year-old novelist dying to break into print, and is of interest solely to book collectors dying to own the entire Swarthout oeuvre."

"Swarthout's conception of his novel is an interesting and ambitious one and his book, in spite of weaknesses and inadequacies in creative ability, has a definite rhythm and vitality. . . His ear is excellent in catching the locutions of the various workers who move through his scenes and episodes. One is left with the impression that he has fine material for a good novel but that he hasn't sufficiently absorbed and developed it." ---Rose Feld, New York Times Book Review.

"The brevity and crispness of the book is to be commended though the plot could have been rounded out a little more. The main characters might have been dealt with more fully in order to make the reader better acquainted with them. Nevertheless, it is good reading, a book that helps one pass a very good evening and leaves the reader with a great deal to think about."
---Ralph Hammett, Some Michigan Books.


Dusty D said...

I do apologize for the somewhat crass language in the title of this post, gentle readers--just quotin' the author.

Richard said...

Twenty years ago this book was in the YDL main library. I checked it out and tried to read it, but couldn't. Too one dimensional and trite even for one who was trying to pick up some sense of the area's history.

I do recommend Harvey Colburn's 1923 Story of Ypsilanti. It has to be in the public domain by now. Maybe I will digitize my copy and post it.

Fritz said...

Cool. "rhapsodizes about the details of building airplanes" makes it almost primary source material. Reports by management, etc., about the functioning of the plant would all be written with a personal interest in shading things one way or another. But if it's just recent memory used as background to a story, the details might be pretty accurate.

Dusty D said...

Richard: Absolutely, Colburn is required reading! I have my own copy at home (available for purchase at the Ypsilanti Archives).

You DO have to read it with a grain or two of salt, however...it's a...tad...hagiographic.

But still invaluable. Strangely, it is not in the public domain--but only because it's only those books published BEFORE 1923 that are in the public domain...and Colburn's book was published IN 1923...so, next year, it should be in the public domain.

Dusty D said...

Fritz: Yes indeedy, I certainly want to read this book, though Richard's description gives me pause. I hope to find a copy and plow through it.