Raintree County Is Impenetrable

Ross Lockridge Jr.’s Raintree County is one of the best novels you will never read. It’s only for the literati or readers serving consecutive life sentences.

This magnum opus — it’s over 1000 pages — follows John Wickliff Shawnessy from dawn to midnight July 4, 1892, weaving John’s memories and musings into the record of the county’s holiday celebration.

John was born in 1839 in Raintree County, Indiana. Before he was out of his teens, the entire county knew he was destined for greatness. He’d be a great runner, or great poet, or great politician.

His greatness never materialized.

At 43, John is principal of the local school. He lost his bid for Congress and has never finished his epic poem on the origins of the American republic. But he’s had some incredible adventures.

Throughout the day, John muses over his personal failures and wonders about the future of America and the human race. He reaches the conclusion that he’s a dreamer, but that dreaming is a lovely, courageous act.

Even with the chronologies Lockridge provides so readers can untangle the history, Raintree County is a tough slog. John is too intellectual to be attractive, and the novel is too literary to be entertaining.

Raintree County
By Ross Lockridge Jr.
Houghton Mifflin, 1948
1,060 pages
Bestseller # 7 for 1948
My Grade: B
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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