Groom, Winston 1944- (Winston Francis Groom, Jr.)
Groom, Winston 1944- (Winston Francis Groom, Jr.)
Born March 23, 1944 (some sources say 1943), in Washington, DC; son of Winston Francis (an attorney) and Ruth Groom; married Ruth Noble (an importer), 1969 (divorced, 1974); married Anne-Clinton Bridges, 1987; children: Carolina Montgomery. Education: University of Alabama, A.B., 1965.
Home—Point Clear, AL; Cashiers, NC. Agent—Theron Raines, Raines & Raines Agency, 103 Kenyon Rd., Medusa, NY 12120.
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.
Authors League of America, Authors Guild.
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 Last Great 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: A Friendship, 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.
1942: The Year That Tried Men's Souls, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2005.
As Summers Die was adapted as a film directed by Jean-Claude Tremont, starring Jamie-Lee Curtis, Scott Glen, and Bette Davis, and released in 1987; 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.
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 three hundred million dollars, making it one of the most profitable films of all time.
Forrest Gump did not start out on the fast track. It sold about forty thousand copies 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 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. In the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt found Groom's writing suspect at times, citing occasional "failures of syntax, diction, and tone," but praised the storyline as "sure-handedly plotted." Groom discounts the moral qualities of his work, 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 revisits themes from his earlier books, addressing the corruption of morals in the South. The novel's protagonist, Vietnam vet Beau Gunn, returns home to discover 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. Reviewing for the Washington Post Book World, Nicholas Proffitt found Gone the Sun "a well written and engrossing novel of lost illusions, buried dreams, fresh starts, retribution and lives cut short." 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." 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 conceded that Gone the Sun "does confirm my opinion that Groom is one of the best writers of dialogue today. That and his story-telling 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 turned to 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 the Library Journal. In the New York Times, Lehmann-Haupt noted that "Hood's campaign turned out to be a catastrophe for the Confederacy." "Still," he concluded, "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 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 on the scene 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, writing for Booklist, found A Storm in Flanders to be "important and brilliantly written," while Rob Stout praised it in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a "vivid, accessible retelling of a seminal battle."
Continuing with his nonfiction efforts, Groom wrote 1942: The Year That Tried Men's Souls, which focuses on the year that proved most pivotal in the war between Japan and the United States. Groom chronicles the events of that year, and the progress made my American troops, starting with some of General MacArthur's decisions early in the year, on through the battle fought in Midway in June, where the Americans where able to surprise the Japanese naval forces despite being severely outnumbered. He also addresses the war efforts against Germany, though these events receive less attention. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews remarked of the book that "Groom brings little news," concluding that the volume was "skillfully written, but not his best effort." However, Jay Freeman, in a review for Booklist, wrote: "This is a superb work of popular history that is a worthy addition to World War II collections." Writing for Kliatt, contributor John Rosser noted: "The book breaks no new scholarly ground on the subject," but went on to conclude: "It's just an absorbing read." Rosser also remarked that Groom's effort offers "the necessary keys to unlocking the larger story of the final Allied victory." A critic for Publishers Weekly remarked: "A talented writer, Groom has written a page-turner; readers needing an introduction will love it."
In Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte at the Battle of New Orleans, Groom recounts the events of the final battle of the War of 1812, one which actually took place after the war had officially ended, as the treaty had been signed only two weeks prior and word had not yet traveled from Belgium—the site of the signing—to New Orleans. Groom has a particular interest in this battle, as he is a descendent of Elijah Montgomery, who was a member of Andrew Jackson's army. Groom concentrates on the two key figures in the American army: Andrew Jackson, who was quickly gaining a reputation as a military leader during the war, and the enigmatic Jean Lafitte, a pirate who turned patriot. The results of the Battle of New Orleans, which the Americans won despite being outnumbered by the British, included a new, impressive reputation for the then-young United States of America. Again writing for Booklist, reviewer Jay Freeman said of the book: "This is a beautifully written and exciting work of popular history." Library Journal contributor Dan Forrest noted that Groom's effort "is not revisionist history but a good retelling," and also praised the inclusion of "plenty of details about early 19th-century life." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book to be "skillfully done … matching the Monday morning quarterbacking of the practiced military historian with good novelistic technique."
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, 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; March 15, 2005, Jay Freedman, review of 1942: The Year That Tried Men's Souls, p. 1261; April 1, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte at the Battle of New Orleans, p. 14.
Chicago Tribune, July 24, 1988, Gary Dretzka, review of Gone the Sun, pp. 6-7.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, review of A Storm in Flanders, p. 544; April 1, 2006, review of Patriotic Fire, p. 334.
Kliatt, July, 2006, John Rosser, review of 1942, p. 34.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 19, 2002, Susan Hall-Balduf, review of A Storm in Flanders, p. K6930.
Library Journal, April 1, 1995, Fritz Buckallew, review of Shrouds of Glory, p. 108; September 15, 1995, Michele Leber, review of Gump and Company, 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; May 1, 2006, Dan Forrest, review of Patriotic Fire, p. 98.
Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1986, Tom Nolan, review of Forrest Gump, p. 3; April 6, 1999, Michael Harris, review of Such a Pretty, Pretty Girl, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 11, 1988, Keith Love, review of Gone the Sun, pp. 1, 10.
New York Times, October 6, 1980, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of As Summers Die, p. 14; August 3, 1988, Michiko Kakutani, review of Gone the Sun, p. C21; April 10, 1995, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Shrouds of Glory, p. B5.
New York Times Book Review, July 9, 1978, Thomas R. Edwards, review of Better Times Than These, p. 14; November 25, 1984, C.D.B. Bryan, review of Conversations with the Enemy, p. 44; March 16, 1986, Jonathan Baumbach, review of Forrest Gump, p. 31.
Publishers Weekly, June 25, 1999, review of Such a Pretty, Pretty Girl, p. 71; March 7, 2005, review of 1942, p. 59.
Washington Post, March 16, 1999, Janice Harayda, "Winston Groom's Taut Tale of a High-Octane Gumshoe," p. C2.
Washington Post Book World, July 9, 1978, L.J. Davis, review of Better Times Than These, p. E5; September 25, 1983, review of Conversations with the Enemy, p. 1; November 11, 1984, Webster Schott, review of Conversations with the Enemy, p. BW20; March 16, 1986, Nicholas Proffitt, review of Forrest Gump, p. 5; August 14, 1988, Nicholas Proffitt, review of Gone the Sun, p. 6.