Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Warren Eyster

Far from the Customary Skies by Warren Eyster (Digit Books, Jul 1956)

John T Frederick ("Speaking of Books", The Rotarian, Jul 1953) offers the following review:
Far from the Customary Skies, by Warren Eyster, follows a pattern that has been familiar in war novels since World War I: it deals impartially with a group of men rather than with one central character. The group in this case is made up of enlisted men on a U.S. destroyer, and the narration carries them from a training cruise into repeated battles in the South Pacific, and a great storm. Officers play only a small part in the story. Much of it records the day-to-day work and talk that make up the prevailaing texture of living on board ship. Some of the men are very firmly portrayed with increasing sharpness as they are progressively revealed; others are shadowy, or achieve a superficial distinctness and retain it.
__Though it resembles other recent war novels in substance and structure, Far from the Customary Skies far surpasses most of them as a piece of writing. I can't say that it's authentic—I don't know. But it has authority. The writing makes me feel and smell and taste, gives me a fresh grasp of some very elemental experiences. Though rightly the power of words in this book is most fully displayed in the sustained narratives of the storm and of battle, it is apparent also in very simple and even trivial passages, almost on every page. The writer falls short of his purpose of impartial, objective comprehension only briefly and very rarely. This book is happily free from the curious inverted sentimentalism that marks so much war fiction. The ugly details and obscene expressions employed are for the most part definitely functional, contributing to legitimate revelation of character and mood. I don't think this is the pattern for the greatest achievements in fiction, but within his chosen pattern Warren Eyster has written with honesty and with undeniable power.
Warren Orndorff Eyster, born in Halifax on 2 January 1925, but was raised in Steelton—later the setting of his National Book Award-winning novel No Country for Old Men—by his grandparents, Samuel J. (a blacksmith in a steel factory) and Louise H. Orndorff, parents of Margaret R. Orndorff, who had married Stanley R. Eyster in 1924. Eyster lived with them until he was seventeen, delivering newspapers, selling subscriptions and, at the age of fourteen, becoming a collector of overdue accounts. He graduated from Steelton High School in 1942 and took a job with the Army Air Corps as a hydraulic learner. In August of that year he met two friends on their way to the Navy recruiting office and walked with them; he enlisted (they did not). He later wrote:
I loved the sea. I found war exciting. I loved going into port. I lost a finger and got shook up a bit. I spent some time in a naval hospital and then worked in a mental hospital. After this, I became a pest-control sailor on a naval base in swamp land, and spent my time hunting down coyotes, rats, mice, mosquitoes and gophers. I got so bored I would track down coyotes with a club. After that I worked in a lumber yard.
__When I was discharged, I went to work for the Army Air Corps again. boredom led me to take a job with an old man who had a steam saw and a track of lumber. I was paid hardly anything, but got enough logs to build a cabin. A friend and I built it, all but the root. To live we cut grass, cut down or trimmed trees, and sold ice cream at a summer resort. Winter came, so I took a job with Piper Cub of Lock Haven. Somewhere in the midst of all that I applied to go to college and wound up at the Harrisburg Academy, where two months later they told me I was good college material. Two years later I was a college graduate. Then I attended the University of Virginia and went sailing along great guns towards a Master's. Except for Chaucer and Milton. I have no gripe against Chaucer and Milton, but I have plenty against the way they are taught.
Eyster began writing his first novel at graduate school and worked at a variety of jobs (setting pins in a bowling alley, for the post office, etc.) whilst writing. He also spent two years on a literary fellowship at the Centro Mexicano de Escritores.

He subsequently became a teacher at Louisiana State University and an adviser on the Delta Review and its predecessors Manchac and Delta. The New Delta Review Eyster Prize was a short story prize named for him.

Eyster is, I believe, still alive and living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He married in 1954 and had a daughter.

Far from the Customary Skies. New York, Random House, 1953; London, Allan Wingate, 1953.
No Country for Old Men. New York, Random House, 1955.
Goblins of Eros. New York, Random House, 1957; London, Victor Gollancz, 1957.
Darkness on the Susquehanna. Louisiana, WOE is me, 1995.
Summer's Lease. Louisiana, WOE is me, 1995.
The Woman Who Couldn't Say No. Louisiana, WOE is me, 1995.

Paths of Glory by Humphrey Cobb, after word by Warren Eyster. New York, Avon, 1963.

(* Most of the biographical information quoted above was derived from this site.)

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