Saturday, October 07, 2017

Born Today: "The Gallery" Author John Horne Burns

The New York Times called him the greatest writer you never heard of. Born today, October 7, in 1916 was John Horne Burns. He wrote three published novels. The best know was his World War II book titled, The Gallery.

Several publishers rejected it before Harper & Brothers published it in June 1947 and it became a best-seller. It depicted life in Allied-occupied North Africa and Naples in 1944 from the perspective of several different characters. Without sentimentality, Burns explored the average man's resentment of the military, his struggle to assert his individuality within the complex war effort, the tension between officers and enlisted men, the psychological effects of dislocation, economic and social inequality between the Americans and those they defeated, the experience of homosexual military personnel, and the popular life of Naples in 1944 under the Allied occupation.

The work was unconventional in structure, comprising portraits of nine characters interspersed with eight recollections narrated by an anonymous American soldier following a route much like the one Burns tracked.

Time magazine mentioned that the novel depicted "an evening spent in a homosexuals' hangout", an entire chapter other reviewers left unmentioned.

Gore Vidal later reported a conversation he had with Burns following The Gallery's success:

Burns was a difficult man who drank too much, loved music, detested all other writers, wanted to be great.... He was also certain that to be a great writer it was necessary to be homosexual.  
Burns died from a cerebral hemorrhage on August 11, 1953.

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