By conveying plainly the experiences of six survivors of the 1945 atomic bombing and its aftermath, Hersey brought to light the magnitude of nuclear war.But how did Hersey―who was not Japanese, not an eyewitness, not a scientist―come to be the first person to communicate the experience to a global audience? In Mr. Straight Arrow, Jeremy Treglown answers that question and shows that Hiroshima was not an aberration but was emblematic of the author’s lifework.
The first line of [Treglow's] acknowledgments states: 'This is a study of John Hersey’s career, not a full biography.' I imagine all the manuscripts, royalty statements and editorial back-and-forths on offer at Yale led him to that decision, but it generated a torque that seems to have directed him to library stalls and away from the wider world, to the detriment of the book ... It’s annoying when reviewers say authors should have written a different book from the one they produced. But I can’t resist saying that if Mr. Treglown wasn’t going to do a full-scale biography he might have been better off writing a critical study of Hersey. His close readings of the author’s work are credible and smart, and he’s especially insightful on the way they reflect the author’s character.
Treglown covers it all as he parses Hersey’s ability to write blazingly forthright and incisive accounts of the physical and psychological damage caused by violence and other abuses of power. Treglown’s meticulous, richly interpretative reevaluation revitalizes our appreciation for the intensity, volume, variety, daring, and “moral imagination” of Hersey’s work, and for how essential and transformative writing can be when it’s strong, brave, conscientious.
Describing Hersey’s books in detail, Treglown shows how his experiences meshed with his work; he discusses his childhood and his relationship with his parents as well as with several of his friends and editors ... Treglown, however, says little about Hersey’s first marriage and divorce and his second marriage to Barbara Day. He also says little about Hersey’s five children ... would have been enlivened by including more information about the Hersey family. In the early part of the book, for example, Treglown shows readers that Hersey was very close to his mother, especially after his father’s death. Yet Treglown says next to nothing about his mother’s death ... thoughtful.