Groom, Winston 1943-
GROOM, Winston 1943-
PERSONAL: Born March 23, 1943, in Washington, DC; son of Winston Francis (an attorney) and Ruth (Knudsen) Groom; married Ruth Noble (an importer), 1969 (divorced, 1974); married Anne-Clinton Bridges, 1987. Education: University of Alabama, A.B., 1965.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Theron Raines, Raines & Raines, 103 Kenyon Rk., Medusa, NY 12120.
CAREER: Washington Star, Washington, DC, 1967-76, began as reporter, became columnist; novelist, 1976—. Military service: U.S. Army, 1965-67, served in Vietnam; became captain.
MEMBER: Authors League of America, Authors Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best fiction award, Southern Library Association, 1980, for As Summers Die; Pulitzer Prize nomination, 1984, for Conversations with the Enemy: The Story of PFC Robert Garwood.
Better Times Than These, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1978.
As Summers Die, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1980.
Only, Putnam (New York, NY), 1984.
Forrest Gump, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1986.
Gone the Sun, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1988.
Gump and Company, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Such a Pretty, Pretty Girl, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Duncan Spencer) Conversations with the Enemy: The Story of PFC Robert Garwood, Putnam (New York, NY), 1983.
Shrouds of Glory: From Atlanta to Nashville; The LastGreat Campaign of the Civil War, Atlantic Monthly Press (Boston, MA), 1994.
Gumpisms: The Wit and Wisdom of Forrest Gump, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1994.
(Author of foreword) Willie Morris, James Jones: AFriendship, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1999.
The Crimson Tide: An Illustrated History of Football at the University of Alabama, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 2000.
A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918:Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2002.
ADAPTATIONS: Forrest Gump was adapted as a film directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Tom Hanks, and released by Paramount in 1994, and was recorded as an audiocassette read by Groom; Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections from Forrest Gump, based on Groom's character, was published by Oxmoor House, 1994.
WORK IN PROGRESS: In Fields Where They Lay, a book about Pancho Villa.
SIDELIGHTS: Winston Groom is not a household name, but the character he created in a 1986 novel has become an American icon. That character took Groom six weeks to create, but it was nine years before he really came to life, and then it was on the silver screen. Groom is the creator of Forrest Gump. The 1994 movie version of the novel Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks, grossed almost $300 million dollars, making it one of the most moneymaking films of all time.
"As Mr. Groom tells it," William Grimes wrote in the New York Times, "pretty much everything about the Gump phenomenon has been a surprise, including the writing of the novel." The original idea for the character came from Groom's father. Groom told Robert Epstein in a Los Angeles Times interview that one day over lunch his father "reminisced about this fellow he once knew, an older man who was slow-witted but whose mother had taught him to play the piano. His story struck something inside me and then I saw a '60 Minutes' show about idiot savants. After Daddy left I started making notes and by midnight I had the first chapter of Forrest Gump." Six weeks later, the book was completed, a work Grimes described as "an unusual blend of farce, satire and the picaresque, told in Forrest's voice."
Forrest Gump did not start out on the fast track. It sold about 40,000 books in the 1980s, and elicited mixed critical response. Los Angeles Times contributor Tom Nolan pointed out that "the notion of a fictional 'idiot' enduring various real-life regional and national idiocies with folkwise equanimity is not without charm.... Part Candide, part Huck Finn and a whole lot of Andy Griffith, [Forrest] makes his case in a voice all his own." Nolan continued, "The generous reader will not be unmoved by certain wispy sentences that tug at the heart like hound dog pups that are starved for love." Yet, as Jonathan Baumbach observed in the New York Times Book Review, "A novel like Forrest Gump relies on revved-up pace and nonstop narrative invention. When the invention goes stale, when it becomes predictable and familiar, as it does at times in the second half, the novel falters." Baumbach concluded, "If charm were everything, Forrest Gump might be some kind of masterpiece. This light satiric novel has many pleasures to offer. As a serious work, which is its sometime ambition, it is too ingratiating, too lacking in genuine surprise, to undemanding of itself."
Before the Forrest Gump phenomena forced him into the spotlight Groom had already built a moderately successful career as a writer. "Two landscapes loom large in the work of Winston Groom," wrote Nicholas Proffitt in the Washington Post Book World, "both of them green, both of them hothouses for chicanery and violence: Vietnam and the American South." The Gulf Coast native has borrowed liberally from his experiences in these two milieus yet has produced a rather diverse body of writing. Groom once told CA: "Like most writers, I write about what I see and feel about the human race in the hope that it might help them understand their lives a little better."
Groom's first novel, Better Times Than These, depicts the trials of an ill-fated company of the Seventh Cavalry in Vietnam. He draws heavily upon personal experience in that conflict to create what New York Times Book Review contributor Thomas R. Edwards termed an "authentic" Vietnam novel. However, Edwards criticized Groom's usage of generalizations that tend towards stereotype: "We hear almost nothing about military profiteering; atrocities are committed only by soldiers who are naturally vicious or insane. The Vietnamese are all spongers, racketeers, buffoons or spies, and all the Vietcong can finally be assessed . . . as 'a core of scraggly, . . . brown-skinned men with vague and inarticulate hopes and dreams.'" L. J. Davis expressed similar reservations in the Washington Post Book World, but added that familiarity is the hallmark of the "war novel" genre and character depictions are necessarily made "in the interest of universalizing them, not to render them troublesomely unique." The critic noted that the characters in Better Times Than These are "made to wear their backgrounds like some triplets wear their clothes—so that we can tell them apart," but nevertheless called the book "a perfectly adequate war novel."
In his second novel, As Summers Die, Groom relates a tale of Southern social politics in the 1950s that focuses on a poor black family's attempt to retain their oil-rich land and the do-good lawyer who takes up their struggle against a wealthy white family. Reviewing the novel for the Washington Post Book World, Beverly Lowry found Groom's plot "rigged" but nonetheless enjoyed the novel—especially its hunting and fishing scenes, wherein "Groom explores the memory of the senses, nostalgia. The book comes alive in these pages. Groom's ear tunes up and finally, the language sings." In the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt offered a different take. Finding Groom's writing suspect at times, Lehmann-Haupt cited occasional "failures of syntax, diction, and tone," but praised the storyline as "sure-handedly plotted." "Groom's As Summers Die has an element of the moral fable about it," wrote Elizabeth Wheeler in the Los Angeles Times. "His world is constructed with certain immutable laws. Characters are either good or bad—not both, not neither. When they are put to the test, the good obey those laws and are rewarded. The bad disobey them and are punished." Groom discounts the moral qualities of his work, however, telling CA: "I tend to think of my writing as more traditional, in the sense that I want to tell a good story first, and any meanings assigned to it by anyone are pretty much incidental."
In Gone the Sun, "Groom has mixed themes from his earlier books into a cohesive whole," observed Timothy Bay in Publishers Weekly. "Again tackling the subject of moral corruption in the Deep South, the novel has as protagonist a Vietnam vet who returns to his Southern coastal home town and becomes embroiled in a scandal within the community." Beau Gunn discovers corruption and murder in the Gulf Coast oil town of Bienville, and, as the local newspaper editor, he sets out to expose all. He also discovers some of his own sins. Nicholas Proffitt found Gone the Sun "a well written and engrossing novel of lost illusions, buried dreams, fresh starts, retribution and lives cut short." And, as Gary Dretzka offered in the Chicago Tribune, "Much of the book provides an effective portrait of how a group of boys grow up in the South of Spanish-moss memories and then get sucked into the overgrown swamps of the real world."
Gone the Sun is a complicated novel which weaves together many elements and genres. "As his earlier novels . . . demonstrated," Michiko Kakutani noted in the New York Times, "Groom has a gift for orchestrating large numbers of characters and incidents, a talent for narrative invention." Yet, the reviewer continued, "Unfortunately, in the case of Gone the Sun, the thriller-like aspects of the story undermine Mr. Groom's more serious aspirations, while his more literary ambitions hobble his action-packed plot." According to Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Keith Love, despite all that it attempts, the book comes up short. "It fails," suggested Love, "because Groom walks away from the chance to explore the disturbing transformation of the South, and from the chance to more deeply explore Beau Gunn as tormented Southerner come home." Still, Love concedes that Gone the Sun "does confirm my opinion that Groom is one of the best writers of dialogue today. That and his storytelling ability keep you going . . . even as the book fails." Proffitt concluded that Gone the Sun "can be enjoyed purely for its considerable entertainment value, as a whodunit of sorts. But there is a moral core to Winston Groom's novels, this one included, and it is this that elevates them."
In 1999 Groom branched out his writing career to include the mystery/thriller genre with Such a Pretty, Pretty Girl. The main character, Delia Jamison, is an L.A. television news anchor who is being stalked and blackmailed by a former lover. Delia has a past tainted with broken hearts, and one such heart belongs to Johnny Lightfoot. Lightfoot is a screenwriter who is still obsessed with Delia and insists on finding her stalker. He embarks on lengthy travels, having numerous run-ins with Delia's former boyfriends. Donna Seaman of Booklist found this novel to be "formulaic" and noted that the author seems "ambivalent about his characters."
In addition to his novels, Groom has also written nonfiction. Conversations with the Enemy: The Story of PFC Robert Garwood was the author's second book based on the Vietnam experience. With coauthor Duncan Spencer he attempts to reveal the facts of Private Robert Garwood's capture in Vietnam, fourteen-year imprisonment by the Viet Cong, eventual release, and dishonorable discharge from the Marines on allegations of desertion and collaboration with the enemy. "What is fascinating about Conversations with the Enemy," maintained C. D. B. Bryan in a New York Times Book Review appraisal, "is its detailed and vivid reconstruction of Private Garwood's fourteen years of internment—his isolation, physical deprivations, confinement in urine-soaked pits; his learning to scrounge for scraps of food and clothing; his endurance of torture by the Vietnamese and his surviving of bombings by the Americans; his becoming fluent in Vietnamese and his undergoing a personality change so complete that when he returned to this country he spoke English with an Oriental accent....He thought in Vietnamese, spoke Vietnamese when upset and was uncomfortable sitting in chairs and sleeping in beds." In a review for the Washington Post Book World Webster Schott called the book "a testament to everything dark, everything wondrous about human beings."
In Shrouds of Glory: From Atlanta to Nashville; The Last Great Campaign of the Civil War, Groom turns to history. Specifically, the book chronicles "Confederate General John Bell Hood's quixotic invasion of Tennessee in the war's final months," explained Fritz Buckallew in Library Journal. As Groom told inter-viewer Michele Bearden, "My intention was to write something that appealed to a wider audience than Civil War nuts. This story was perfect because it had all the elements: sex, violence, honor." In the New York Times Lehmann-Haupt noted that "Hood's campaign turned out to be a catastrophe for the Confederacy." "Still," concluded the reviewer, "despite the ignominy of the story's outcome from the South's point of view, Mr. Groom's book effectively evokes the overwhelming momentousness of the war."
In another work of nonfiction, Groom tells the grisly story of the battle on the Western Front in Flanders, Belgium, during World War I. In 2002's A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front, Groom mixes his research with quotes from the letters and diaries of soldiers to chronicle the four-year trench warfare that has often been characterized as a slaughter. Although the number of persons who died in this battle remains unknown, Groom informs the reader that in just one 1917 battle, over 240,000 were killed in an area about the size of Manhattan. Jay Freeman of Booklist found A Storm in Flanders to be "important and brilliantly written," while Rob Stout praised it in the Atlantic Journal-Constitution as a "vivid, accessible retelling of a seminal battle."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 9, 1994, p. D20; March 7, 1999, David Kirby, review of Such a Pretty, Pretty Girl, p. L11; March 25, 1999, Don O'Briant, "'Gump' Author Makes Room for Pancho Villa," p. E2; June 30, 2002, Rob Stout, review of A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front, p. F4.
Booklist, January 1, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Such a Pretty, Pretty Girl, p. 792; May 15, 2002, Jay Freeman, review of A Storm in Flanders, p. 1572.
Chicago Tribune, July 24, 1988, sec. 14, pp. 6-7.
Entertainment Weekly, August 18, 1995, p. 46.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, review of A Storm inFlanders, p. 544.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 19, 2002, Susan Hall-Balduf, review of A Storm in Flanders, p. K6930.
Library Journal, April 1, 1995, p. 108; September 15, 1995, p. 92; February 15, 1999, Wilda Williams, review of Such a Pretty, Pretty Girl, p. 183; June 1, 2002, Michael F. Russo, review of A Storm in Flanders, p. 170.
Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1980; August 7, 1994, p. 24; April 6, 1999, Michael Harris, review of Such a Pretty, Pretty Girl, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 23, 1983; April 6, 1986, p. 3; September 11, 1988, pp. 1, 10.
New York Times, June 28, 1978; October 6, 1980; April 12, 1984; August 3, 1988, p. C21; July 6, 1994; July 27, 1994, p. C9; September 1, 1994, p. C13; April 10, 1995, p. B5.
New York Times Book Review, July 9, 1978; October 16, 1983; March 16, 1986, p. 31; April 16, 1995, p. 23; September 10, 1995, p. 15.
People, September 18, 1978; September 5, 1994, pp. 79-80; May 22, 1995, p. 25; September 4, 1995, p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, August 12, 1988, pp. 430-431; April 17, 1995, pp. 34-35; July 17, 1995, p. 221; June 25, 1999, review of Such a Pretty, Pretty Girl, p. 71.
Time, June 26, 1995, p. 81.
Washington Post, November 17, 1980; March 26, 1984; March 16, 1999, Janice Harayda, "Winston Groom's Taut Tale of a High-Octane Gumshoe," p. C2.
Washington Post Book World, July 9, 1978; September 25, 1983; March 16, 1986, p. 5; August 14, 1988, p. 6.*