After having read FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and THE THIN RED LINE, I couldn't figure out what would be so interesting about an army war hospital(the setting for WHISTLE). I was dead wrong proving once again that a great writer makes anything interesting.
The guys are back from Gradualcanal and suffering both physical and psychological effects. They are happy to be alive and ashamed they didn't die along side their buddies. It's hard to believe that so many people they meet know nothing about the war being fought out there. They believe in the other men from their old company, but little else.
It could be argued that it is the weakest of the trilogy. Jones hurried to write the book before his early death at age 55. It was published more than 20 years after the war's end and suffers somewhat from the knowledge of those 20 years. The references to the songs seem more nostalgic than informative. His analysis of the sexes would have been brilliant in 1946, but easily made in the 1970s. But those are minor points, because the book is every bit as honest as gritty as anything that he ever wrote. Good enough that you don't want it to end, but harsh enough that you're afraid to read it a second time.
on July 16, 2001
No author captures the mind and plight of the ordinary soldier better than James Jones, and "Whistle" is the third book of a trilogy that includes the indomitable "From Here to Eternity" and the gritty "The Thin Red Line."
From Here to Eternity portrays barracks life in Hawaii just before the attack at Pearl Harbor; The Thin Red Line is a wrenching account of island fighting in the South Pacific; and Whistle is the story of four men from the same infantry company, all wounded in battle, who are brought back to the U.S. on a hospital ship and then sent to an Army hospital in the South.
The book does a fine job of portraying the complex relationships between the four men and the inner demons each has to face. First Sergeant Martin Winch is a cynical, but superb leader who struggles with congestive heart failure while trying his best to protect the other three men. Mess Sgt. Johnny Strange is the nurturer who looks after the others while he struggles with the infidelity of his wife, and the injustices of the Army pecking order. Buck Sergeant Marion Landers tries but fails to handle the monstrous fury that wells up inside him. Corporal Bobby Prell fights to save his legs from amputation and copes with feelings of guilt over a Congressional Medal of Honor that he does not believe he deserves.
This was Jones’ final book, and he was unable to finish the final three chapters before he died of congestive heart failure (his death is portrayed in the movie "A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries" based on the book written by his daughter, Kaylie.)
Unfortunately, the last book of the trilogy doesn’t measure up to the first two, and it pains me to write this because I am one of Jones’ major fans. The story, the writing, Jones’ unique ability to get into the head of the GI just aren’t as sharp in this work.
There is also the matter of his preoccupation about a man performing oral ... on a woman– he goes on and on and on about it throughout the book. The ... is graphic, even by today’s standards. All well and good, but the preoccupation with oral ... stretched and exceeded the limits of its role in the story line. It’s like Jones’ had a statement to make, and he made it too often; and he made it too important for credibility.
And then there is the end of the book, which should have been handled differently. Jones was unable to complete the final three and one half chapters, but he let his intentions for the finale be known in detail. A friend and neighbor, Willie Morris, wrote the last chapters from notes and recordings. They are not written as fiction, but as a summary of what the author intended to happen. The novel would have been much better had a skilled writer done the end as a continuing fictional narrative, imitating Jones’ style. (Of course, there would need to be an appropriate explanation of how it was handled at the beginning of the book.)
Whistle is not James Jones best work. But it’s still a fine story by one of America’s most underrated authors.
on February 14, 2001
"Whistle" is one of the best books I have read. WWII is my favorite story genre. James Jones has never been disappointing in showing the reality of the soldiers' character. There were parts of the story where I audibly gasped at what had taken place. Although some of the language was Army technical and foreign to me, it was an easy read. The sexual encounters and explicit descriptions of them, was not offensive,but enlightening. It was very real and a breath of fresh air compared to the sugar coated versions of what happened during the war in other stories and films of the same time period. The main characters, Winch, Landers, Strange and Prell are so different from the stereo-type "war hero" It is a story of WWII which reveals the horror but does not dwell on it with blood, violence & gore and shows it from so many different perspectives.
James Jones, wrote this, the last book of his World War II trilogy (From Here to Eternity, The Thin Red Line) right before his early death at 55. The men have returned to Tennessee from guadalcanal as casualties. These are basically the same characters from the earlier books, carried forward with different names. As their physical ailments heal, we begin to realize that their psychological ailments are worsening. Their wives are distant and their girlfriends are shallow, but there is plenty of whiskey.
An army hospital may not seem the setting for an exciting story, but this book is every bit as compelling as Jones' prior installments. It's difficult for these men to come back to the mainland to be surrounded by people who understand nothing of their experiences. They are happy to be away from the fighting, but the men they shared those days with, seem to be the only reality they accept.
Jones passed away before the book was complete, and the last few chapters read like cliffs notes, but it doesn't lessen the power of this story.
on July 11, 2007
Although Whistle takes place in 1943, it is really about post-war America and the effect it had on the psyche of American males. We have met all of the four main characters (with different names, but the author identifies them in a foreword)in earlier volumes of James Jones great trilogy: From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line. Now they are in a hospital in Tennessee.
They all come to bad ends, but it isn't really the war that destroys them. It is the peace and their inability to live with the changes wrought by the war. One can't cope with his inability to protect his men, one rebels when he is forced to become a public relations flack in order to stay in the army, one rejects the honor and traditions of the military ethos only to regret it and the other one is appalled by the nihilism which he sees as the wave of the future.
Jones fought a battle to complete this book before he died. He didn't quite succeed - a few chapters toward the end are sketched out in summary form - but this is a complete and important work by one of the greatest American writers of the Twentieth Century and a very worthy finale to a trilogy comprised of masterpieces.
on April 13, 2013
Having been enthralled by James Jones' "The Thin Red Line" about the war in the Pacific and then (out of chronological order) mightily intrigued by his pre-Pacific-war "From Here to Eternity," I finally took up the third book of this trilogy, about the fate of the American wounded from the Pacific war, "Whistle." I can understand that this book could have a great deal of meaning for some veterans. But, innocent of such experience myself, I can only report on my sense of the book's literary quality. Although "literary quality" may be an odd measure for anything by Jones since his writing is idiosyncratic, to put it nicely (his neglect of apostrophes in the two first books being the least of it). But in "Red Line" and "Eternity" there was certainly a lot of great writing. The writing in "Whistle" is, in my opinion, a uniform disaster.
This is true both stylistically and substantively. The sentences are put together in the most crude and banal ways; and both the characters (intended to be essentially if not literally the same protagonists from the two previous works) and plot have the heavy feel of having been concocted by an author. Neither of these was the case with the other novels.
To expand on that a little: We know the characters through and through in "Whistle," whereas in the two other books the characters have a kind of reality precisely because, just as with people in our actual life, we can never entirely know them. Meanwhile, the plot seems driven by a mix of sentimentality and fatalism, as opposed to the (seeming?) randomness of events that transpire in the two other books, which, again, for me, added verisimilitude to them.
One other thing: "Whistle" eventually becomes practically a sermon on the importance of, as well as a primer on how to perform, cunnilingus. Maybe this was a needed corrective in its day, but, as above, this reader sensed an author's agenda intruding on, and hence dispelling the sense of reality of, the story.
So get what you will from reading this book, which can surely hold the reader's interest. Jones' theme of war as hell but also the greatest source of human (or at least male) bonding is a powerful one that runs through the whole trilogy. But reading "Whistle" won't be the same experience as reading Jones' two unquestioned masterpieces.
on February 6, 2000
I found this book to be a worthwhile conclusion to the trilogy featuring "From Here to Eternity" and "The Thin Red Line". I read all three in 1999 and can say that James Jones has written a masterful set. The book is a pioneer in its field because it deals with the recovery, rehabilitation and the daily routines of wounded soldiers at a hospital in Luxor (a fictional city on the mainland of the USA during the middle of World War II). I am not familiar with any other book that deals with this topic. The charecters in this book were all wounded on New Georgia, which was the campaign after Guadalcanal, and so Whistle picks up where The Thin Red Line stops. Based on James Jones' own experiences, Whisltle makes a memorable conclusion in the very last chapters.
on April 3, 1999
Whistle completes the trilogy started in From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line. Four characters are carried over -- the 1st Sergent, the clerk, the mess sergent, and the misfit. Here, they return stateside on a hospital ship, each with their own wounds, and the novel follows their intertwined and separate destinies. It may be one of the best attempts to outline Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but Jones never dips so low as to call it some buzz phrase like that.
Recommended to those who have read either or both of the first two books. Maybe a tough slog for those without that background. Out of print for a long time, I read a copy in the library. This useful reissue is presumably being driven by the film of The Thin Red Line. I found that book and film moving. Whistle can be immensely *more* saddening in comparison, esp. the film, which is almost hopeful compared to Jones. -dB
on November 17, 2014
I first read the work of James Jones many years ago with "Some Came Running." Recently, I reread SCR and felt the need to then read his WWII trilogy. Jones' own WWII experiences gave him an insight that made his stories starkly realistic.
I found "From Here to Eternity" the least interesting of the three books, but the most necessary, because it sets the characters up for the later two stories. "Thin Red Line" was unlike any WWII book that I had ever read. Jones portrayal of the manias, foibles, and weaknesses of the characters brought the story to life for me. The only thing that I missed was the continuation of the characters begun in FHtE. Once I figured that part out TRL made much more sense.
In many ways, the first two books set you up for the ultimate tragedies of the characters that make it to "Whistle." I don't disagree that the sexuality that makes up a large part of Whistle could be unnecessary to some, but I believe that the discussion gives the reader a better insight into the characters mindsets.
Having come to "know" the characters that made it through to Whistle, I found it almost a relief that Jones passed away before the details of Prell's, Winch's, and Strange's demises could be fully detailed. I found pieces of each character that made them endearing, to have had to endure the details of their ends (as was done with Landers) might have made the book too depressing.
Whistle has to be considered one of the most important books about the impact that WWII had on many of the soldiers caught up in combat, and how their experiences shaped them, or destroyed them. So many of those gentlemen never spoke of the horrors they witnessed. Just as the more recent returnees from subsequent wars and conflicts have been urged to recount and come to grips with their experiences, the veterans whom returned from WWII lived quietly with their memories because that's what they were "supposed to do."
If you want your heroes John Wayne-ish, don't read this book. If you want a more realistic look at how the horror of war affects those caught up in it, then, by all mean, read this book.
on July 20, 2015
This is the third and last part of the famous war trilogy by James Jones. The first part (from here to eternity) deals with life as a soldier in peace time. The second (the thin red line) deals with being at war. And this one, the last, deals with the experiences of soldiers coming back home after being wounded - and the effect of the war on them. I will not describe the plot as to not spoil anything. However, all those topics, some of which are totally unknown to the general public, are covered, and the author makes you understand them as you never will better without actually experiencing them yourself: the guilt feeling about being wounded and evacuated while your unit is still in combat. Post traumatic stress disorder. The feeling of not belonging and that people not from the army (or even branch) are outsiders. The loss of faith in the human race. The destruction of relationships with family. The emotional numbness and depression. The difficult road to physical recovery and the fear of losing a limb. the absurdness of war. The living in the present with no regard whatsoever for the future. Suicide.
While it is less polished than the other parts of the trilogy (the author died before completing the last two chapters that only appear in sketch form) if may be a greater achievement overall, for the depth of understanding of the psychological effects of war it provides. It also enjoys the chance the author had to reflect for 30 years on his experiences before completing the book.
To really know what war means, you need to read this book. There are many books about the experience of war itself, but few (novels at least) about the life after.
It is an emotionally difficult read, and contains graphic sexual descriptions, if that bothers you. I bet you'll never forget it though.
This is what the author had to say: "Whistle...(omitted)... will say just about everything i have ever had to say, or will ever have to say, on the human condition of war and what it means to us, as against what we claim it means to us".