FICTION : AS SOON AS IT RAINS by Kaylie Jones (Doubleday: $16.95).
This first novel, by the daughter of James Jones (“From Here to Eternity”), is the story of a college-age child-woman trying to overcome the trauma of her famous father’s death. Regrettably, it falls short, becoming mired in self-pity and epithets. The protagonist, Chloe, mourning her father and unable to relate to her brother and alcoholic mother, is meant to be a funky, neurotic, creative, budding writer groping her way back to sanity after a breakdown that occurs before the book begins.
In fact, many of the interesting elements of the story--death, hysteria, an abortion--occur outside the realm of the novel, and this is the author’s greatest stumbling block. As we read of Chloe drinking and swearing her way through college, in and out of affairs, and through a winter in France, events and moods are summarized by the author rather than depicted. The reluctant plot meanders, and issues and people waver dizzyingly in and out of focus throughout.
That her father’s “From Here to Eternity” is considered by many to be the most important American novel to emerge out of World War II makes daughter Jones’ task all the more difficult. She doesn’t have the Army, a romantic Hawaiian locale or an impending war to help her plot along. Jones writes about a contemporary domestic battle that suspiciously echoes the hard-drinking, raucous, masculine tone of a James Jones novel.
As the daughter of a successful writer, I realized that part of what stymied my own writing for years was that the voice that dictated to my pen was my father’s. I am not accusing Jones of consciously imitating her father--on the contrary. What I am saying is that she has yet to find her own voice. Perhaps she is trying to please ghosts when she should be learning to please herself.