Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: THE ONE-EYED MAN by Larry L. King

This is a tag-along to the Friday's Forgotten Book series.  The links to the others in the series are available at the website of author Patti Abbot or one of her deputies, at this link.
The One-Eyed Man by Larry L. King, first edition published by the New American Library, New York, 1966.  The Signet paperback edition, scanned above, was published in December, 1967.

First epigraph:  "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." --Anon.

Second epigraph:  "Do you think I am trusty and faithful?  Do you see no further than this facade, this smooth and tolerant manner of me?  Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?  Have you no thought O dreamer that it may be all maya, illusion?" --Walt Whitman

I prefer a reading in the spirit of the second epigraph, though the author does not defend it this way.

Excerpt:  "It has been a while since the day when we whoosed through the boondocks, stopping to pump the hands of the back country jackdaws and feeling the first swift currents of their discontent, with Collie spraying his waste water among the tall stalks, and bending into the sweet melon, and cheerfully baiting Bo.  It has been a while, and tired bones record the passing."

"The sun has beamed down on rooftops a thousand mornings and the winds have promiscuously changed course, and pious prayers have been shouted over the uncaring forms of the dead.  Our mudball has turned among the stars, and beasts have prowled the fields , and time has cracked into the old patterns of split seconds of joy trailed by eons of sorrow."

"Later on, the goddamn historians will get hold of it.  They will fix the past in the hard glare of twenty-twenty hindsight and go conjuring up visions and assigning motives as though they had a special license for the purpose, and all the time they won't have a clue.  They will see the indelible tracks in the endless desert and chart the winding curves of the main path, but miss the subtle signs of struggle on the trackless rocks and the dead-end cakewalks along the hidden side trails."

"History is just a bunch of spooked people hoo-hawing around, straining a guy to stay ahead of those hairy hounds of horror Cullie used to talk about.  Hoping they won't be bayed down and treed.  Historians forget the black X of chance.  They honk up the notion that everything was planned, was willed and done for a reason.  The old wheel of fortune keeps spinning in worn grooves and the X of chance falls wantonly on the squares, and about all any mother's son can do is ride with the play."

 The opening (and just about any passage your read in this novel) immediately conjures up Robert Penn Warren's 1947 Pulitzer Prize winner,  All the King's Men.  King thought his book a tribute and an updating of Warren's original work, but a novel to stand on its own.  Pre-publication blurbs were gathered from respected authors.  John Kenneth Galbraith called it "the best political novel since The Last Hurrah."

It was timely, a novel about the end of the segregated south and with it any vestiges of the states rights movement.  The novel was well promoted and big things were expected of it.  A major book club made it an alternate selection.  But it did not sell well.  Most reviews were negative, and a lot of reviewers thought it a bad parody of All The King's Men.

When Signet came out with the paperback (scanned above), the cover promoted a smokey vision of a couple about to have sex--which has almost nothing to do with the book.  When the author protested to his editor, he was asked, "Do you want to sell any books or not?"

In Larry L. King's memoir, None But a Blockhead: On Being A Writer,  King discusses the writing of the novel and tells of a party he and his wife were invited to at the home of authors Willie and Celia Morris.  The guest list also included Robert Penn Warren, King's "hero of heroes," his wife author Eleanor Clark, husband and wife authors William and Rose Styron, and the historian C. Vann Woodward.

After King met Warren, the two engaged in conversation about books.  King said that there were many other books that he would like to write, but that he thought himself too unworthy, having so little formal education.  Robert Penn Warren replied:

"Well, if you thought you understood very much about anything I doubt whether you'd be successful at the creative process.  I've always found that I write to learn, as much as I write to tell or to instruct."

"I don't believe a writer is having a creative experience when he merely tells.  There should be in the writer's work a great seeking."

Earlier, King's editor had sent the galleys of The One-Eyed Man to Warren and received the terse reply, "It looks like your new writer has been writing in my sleep."  At the dinner table later that night, King's wife brought that up, embarrassing both Warren and her husband.  Warren acted gentlemanly throughout--"Oh, my, how ungenerous of me!"--and both authors apologized to each other.  In his memoir, King admits and regrets the degree to which he channeled Warren's great novel.

King also recounts the efforts of actor Dan Blocker--who played Hoss on the television western, Bonanza--to produce and star in a movie adaptation of The One-Eyed Man.

King went on to write The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas and many other works.  Yet King's forgotten first novel is valuable for its historical insights and humor and, indeed, in its artifact reminder of the once unrepentant and segregated South, now happily gone with the wind.

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