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Wild Hands Toward the Sky: Read/Post Comments
John Walter lives in a Southern Illinois small city right after WWII. ... Even being only 20, and therefore having not seen nor experienced any of what happens in the lead character's life, I could see the places Ray Elliott describes, hear the voices of those veterans, and hope for John Walter's future.
This work is a realistic and absolutely truthful description of human psychology in front of the biggest fear: losing the people we love. And everything seen from the innocent eyes of a child who has learned too soon what suffering means and who takes as models those veterans and the father he never knew. Through his story, Elliott pictures how war damages those who die, but most of all those who come back and the families of all soldiers. This is a beautifully written book, and it is also more than relevant nowadays.
I just finished reading "Wild Hands Toward the Sky" and enjoyed it. Your book took me back to my younger days. Things weren't much different in the 10 years after the war than they were in the 10 years preceding the war when I was growing up. I knew guys like Big who hauled gravel and limestone and livestock to the East St Louis market. My dad owned a farm and had a tenant feeding cattle, some of which he bought at the Paris auction. I've been to Bellair and Annapolis and Yale.
Just before the end of the war, my father bought a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership. When [author] James Jones hit it big with "From Here to Eternity," demand was still far outstripping supply. The Chrysler dealer in Oblong called my dad and asked if he had a certain model in a certain color. My dad said yes, and the dealer asked my dad if he could have it because James Jones wanted it. My dad said OK, if he would get him and autographed copy of Jones' book. The deal was made, and I have that book in my possession today.
John Walter's father died in World War II when he was two-year old. He was too little to understand it, yet old enough to feel the pain. His father's death is like a hole that every member in the family feels. His mother lived in memories ever since and rarely smiled. She died at age 36. His cousin Sam, who was injured in the D-Day invasion returned home forever changed. He ended up killing himself, sticking a rifle in his mouth years after. In a sense, everyone in the family was traumatized because of the War.
This is a wonderful piece of work written by Ray Elliott, who not only has a strong compassion for human sufferings but also has the excellent literary and journalistic skills to express himself well.
The novel also depicts the beautiful rural life in southern Illinois in the '40s and '50s last century. You can almost smell the pristine air. A serene life that was about to disappear, as young Sedwick was longing to going to somewhere beyond Bellair.
I had a chance to spend a weekend in the southern Illinois town where the novel was set, yet I didn't go for some reason. After reading the novel, I regretted a great deal missing the opportunity to visit the place. Should I have been there, I probably would be better able to picture the boy growing up in melancholy and pain with yearning for his father and longing for exploring the outside world.
Ray Elliott's "Wild Hands Toward the Sky" is a marvelous novel of remembrance and reflection. Having grown up in the nearby post-war Southern Indiana towns of Patoka and Princeton, the novel's wonderful characters and narrative has a ring of truthfulness I have never before experienced in a literary work. There was not one word or incident with which I could not vividly identify. For those not familiar with the Midwest locale, the novel will still resonate with a truth and beauty rarely found in contemporary literature. John Walter, the young narrator, speaks to us all of the joy and pain of the maturation process. This novel deserves recognition as the work of a major talent.
Alan K. Collins
Just finished "Wild Hands." Thoroughly enjoyed it. Very moving; very insightful; very funny at times. Had me laughing; crying; constantly wondering how you'd end it. At the same time, fighting a temptation to read the end before the preceding pages.
The amazing part is that it's your first novel! You stayed projected into the main character, John Walter, all the way. As he grew up, so did the author. And so did us the readers. The dialogue is great. It captured the region. Terrific ear for the common, everyday speech pattern of Southern Illinois.
"Wild Hands" is universal. Growing up whether you're from Southern Illinois or Hawaii or Japan we all go through it. And you've made it honest. We dearly care for [the characters]. Every one of them. John Walter, Big, Sam, Mother, Aunt Helen, even Big Al. And you wrapped it as you had promised in the beginning: a boy coming of age.
You covered John Walter's life convincingly. To prolong "the coming of age," I'm afraid you could have dissipated the gut of your theme. As it is, it's monumental. It can stand up against any book about a boy growing up.
As Lowney Handy told me about my "boy" in "Lucky Come Hawaii": "You'll never be able to capture the essence of [him] again. You've poured your heart out. And you left nothing more to be said." John Walter, of course, can go on. He's sixteen. Is he gonna join the Marines? End up in Vietnam? Come back and farm with Big? Again, John Walter captured my heart. His restraining of emotions made me cry for him.
It's a kind of book you can be proud of. It should be read by all. It should be published in paperback. And a long shot made into a TV or movie. It's uplifting. Heartwarming. What the country needs at these times.
"In WILD HANDS TOWARD THE SKY, Ray Elliott realistically captures those days before, during and after World War II. He lets a young boy who lost his father in the war narrate the story and writes so poignantly and relates well the pain in the young boy's heart. The boy agonizes about being fatherless due to the war and wonders what it would have been like had his father returned.
The boy goes often to the grave of a local soldier killed in Germany that he knew and loved and got to know before the war. The boy unloads at that gravesite his disappointments, his longings and wonders why his daddy had to die so young, tries hard to put it all together.
He learns the hard facts of life in this small countryside place where he is growing up. Here he grows into manhood and experiences the good, the bad and the ugly in life, described in stark detail.
I like the book. It brought many memories flooding back to my mind about war and its aftermath and how it affected me and many others who suffered the loss of a loved one. I'm glad to have read the book and feel I have a fresh understanding that war is not kind, but devastating to those who were "left behind," of having to pick up the pieces of an interrupted life and vanquished dreams that never ever came true. Dreams of always wondering but never knowing what might have been, if only. ...
War is cruel, life is uncertain and growing up is never easy. You experience all this in Ray Elliott's first novel. Visiting the fallen soldier's grave when he couldn't often visit his father's grave is a thread woven all through the story a pain too deep for this boy, a memory of a loss in a boy's heart too deep to comprehend or hear ... the loss of his father."
"I am enjoying the book so much. I don't remember ever reading anything about the psychological, emotional and financial problems that faced World War II veterans when they returned home. It's about time someone concentrated on this subject, and it is being done in Wild Hands Toward the Sky."
"I just finished your novel (Wild Hands Toward the Sky) five minutes ago - read it straight through. It's so very impressive. I had the feeling all the way through that it must be true, the details were so real. I don't know. If you were writing from memory, then you have a much better memory than I do. I remember almost nothing from my childhood. If you were writing from imagination, that is even more impressive. I suspect it was a combination of both.
In the homeland, the time between World War II and the Korean War was a haunted time but also a holy time, filled with the ghosts of those lost but still loved. You have captured it so well. To me, your book is history. It should be preserved as such. I hope you take that as a compliment. But it's the way I feel about it and I had to tell you so.
One little funny note, and don't take it the wrong way, but man oh man, I kept wanting you to meet the girl you'd put your belly button next to. The way you write, so honestly and so graphically, that would have made one hellluva scene. Maybe in the next book?"
"Set on the small farms and the villages of Southern Illinois near the Wabash Valley, Ray Elliott's realistic novel, "Wild Hands Toward the Sky," subtly brings themes from Stephen Crane's ironic poem "War is Kind" into the gritty proletarian life of rural Illinois during and shortly after World War II. This sprawling coming-of-age novel is set in a world of upheaval and change, and Elliott gives us his own unique insights into confused or psychologically damaged characters whose lives have been forever changed by "kind" war. This novel deserves to be widely read.
"Ray Elliott's "Wild Hands Toward the Sky" perfectly captures that almost hallucinogenic period in America following World War II. It is the story of John Walter, who was too young to fight but old enough to be changed forever. His father was killed; those who return are wounded
psychologically and physically; his mother lives on memories in its aftermath. All of this takes place in the heart of the country, in the land
of James Jones, the author of the seminal novels of that war. But this novel is more. It is the timeless universal story of all boys groping and fighting their way to manhood. It is a book from the heart as well as the guts. Every word rings true."
"Ray Elliott's work has always been about remembering. Over the past quarter-century, he's been a newspaper columnist, a magazine editor, a book publisher, a teacher of young journalists and the head of an international literary society. In all those varied endeavors, the goal has been the same: to bear witness and lend poetry to the often-ignored world of the small-town Midwest. "Wild Hands Toward the Sky," a wise and resonant debut novel, is Elliott's finest achievement, a poignant memorial to a generation of Americans and a rural way of life that are soon to vanish."
"I bought the book out of curiosity, because I knew it was the
author's first novel. It turned out to be a page turner. I had a hard
time putting it down and raced through it in a few days. The
characters in the book really came alive for me and I found I liked
them. I especially liked Sedwick, the boy through whose eyes the
story is told. The book really brought out the emotional trauma
suffered by those returning from World War II as well as by those
who stayed behind during the war and lost loved ones. Yet the
characters bore the trauma with courage and without complaint. I
could only admire their stoicism as they handled the various
misfortunes life dealt them. I strongly recommend the book to
anyone who enjoys a good story well told."
Carroll E. Goering
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