Seldom has a book been published to more frenzied anticipation than Raintree County, a story of a man remembering his life, one touched by a troubled marriage, insanity, and the Civil War. Told through flashbacks, utilizing a kind of personal mythology, philosophy, poetry, and incandescent prose, it has been an unofficial contender for the Great American Novel ever since. (It is also remembered for the movie version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.) When it hit the stands in January 1948, it had already outsold its first printing, garnered stellar reviews, and won a prize from MGM for $150,000 (over a million in today’s money). Eight weeks later it was declared a number one bestseller. The day after, its author, thirty-three year old Ross Lockridge, Jr., killed himself.
Born in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1914, Lockridge grew up with a strong belief in his own destiny. In high school he was good looking, charismatic, and driven. He studied the classics in France for two years before graduating from the University of Indiana with the highest grade point average the school had ever seen.
He was about to join the university’s English department when his life changed after a badly misjudged show of bravado. [read more]