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Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of…

Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr.

by Larry Lockridge

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In January 1948, Raintree County -- the wonderful, amazing first novel of Ross Lockridge, Jr -- was published. On March 6, 1948, the same week that his book became the #1 bestseller, Ross Lockridge committed suicide at the age of 33. The world lost a brilliant writer and 5-year-old Larry Lockridge lost his father.

In 1989, Larry Lockridge began his biography of the father he barely remembered. I ordered this book shortly after I read Raintree County last year, expecting a brief history of his father's life and perhaps some insight into the seemingly inexplicable suicide of a brilliant young man on the cusp of fame. When the book arrived, I found that it was a meticulously researched tome of nearly 500 pages. It took me a while to get to it, and wish I had done so earlier, while Raintree County was still more fresh in my mind.

Shade of the Raintree is a son's quest to know his father and to find some answers. He interviewed practically everyone who had known his father; obtained letters written by his father to others; delved into family archives for notes, outlines, commentary and unpublished works of his father; and researced the psychology of depression and suicide. He also brings a scholar's viewpoint -- he is/was a professor of Romantic literature -- to his father's book.

For me, the book was worth reading just for the excerpts of Ross Lockridge's amazing writing, much of it not publicly available or at least not easily accessible (and I wish he had included more). But it is more than that, too: it's a well-written portrait of a genius, and a documentation of the ravages of depression.

Larry Lockridge was looking for answers. I hope he found them for himself, but I wasn't satisfied with the blame he attached to his grandparents and Ross's early childhood, or with the Freudian theories, as an explanation for Ross's deep depression after finishing his book. Even with our greater understanding of depression 60 years later, it is almost impossible to pinpoint causes. What is tragically clear, though, is that today's wider recognition of depression, and far better treatment options including anti-depression drugs, would quite likely have prevented his suicide.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has read Raintree County (and I also highly recommend reading that book). Without having read the novel, though, I don't think this book would be so interesting. ( )
  ivyd | Apr 11, 2011 |
4235 Shade of the Raintree The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr. Author of Raintree County, by Larry Lockridge (read 20 Nov 2006) This is a 1994 biography of the author's father. Much of it is engrossing reading, and Lockridge's suicide in 1948 becomes much more understandable, whereas I previously found it inexplicable--committed just when the novel, Raintree County, had become successful. The author was five when his father died. The book is carefully researched and actually gains from being by the subject's son. In the early part of the book some very trivial things are recorded, but the account of Lockridge's education--he went to Indiana U. and got all A's and A pluses except for one B, the highest grades anyone has ever gotten there, the son claims--and his time in France is full of interest. And the account of the writing of the book is also full of interest. Some of the discussion of mental illness was not of interest to me, but the account of the suicide and its aftermath I found poignant. This is a most unusual book, and reading it was a novel and appreciated experience. ( )
  Schmerguls | Oct 27, 2007 |
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