H. L. Humes

January 15th, 2007

“Somewhere on the bookshelf between forgotten and neglected, between the tragic and the strange, stands the reputation of the American writer Harold L. Humes,” writes Celia McGee an article in the 13 January 2007 edition of the New York Times:

The Third Man of the postwar Paris expatriate crowd — he was a co-founder of The Paris Review in 1953, with Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton — Doc Humes, as he was known, went on to produce two novels in the late 1950s that placed him at the head of a new generation of writers to watch. But in the ’60s he succumbed to a mental illness that left him paranoid and peripatetic. Yet to those who remember him, he remained so brilliant that even in madness he dazzled, delighted, educated and touched.

Now “Doc,” a documentary by an Oscar-nominated filmmaker (one of Mr. Humes’s daughters) and fresh awareness among several publishers is raising hopes that Mr. Humes’s long out-of-print novels will finally resurface.

If availability of his books is any measure of a writer’s neglect, Humes is currently up in the top ranks. Neither of his two novels are available (even used) on Amazon, and a search of AddAll.com today produced a sum total of two copies each of The Underground City and Men Die.

Alan Cheuse wrote an essay on The Underground City in Rediscoveries II and Ted Morgan named it as one of Antaeus magazine’s “Neglected Books of the 20th Century”. Time magazine wrote of Men Die,

A talented young first novelist named H. L. (for Harold Louis) Humes last year produced an almost classic example of the ambitious book that tries to say too much. The Underground City was at once a war novel, a treatise on right and wrong, an indictment of the human condition. Its 755 pages were too many and too tiring. Now, in less than one-quarter the wordage. Author Humes, 33, has produced a new book that gives off more significance than his first could even suggest….

Author Humes does his work in flashbacks, not the smooth ones of a Marquand, but brusque revelations carved out like sections of a monument to doom. Unfortunately, he also chooses to interpolate interior monologues, which prove only that he has not read James Joyce well enough. But these form a minor irritant compared to the book’s merits — clean writing, crisp description, and a surprisingly accurate sense of the bitter relationships, mostly unspoken, between the enlisted Negroes and their commander. Author Humes is no optimist. Every page of Men Die implies an underlying sense of doom for mankind; yet every page is also immensely readable.

Immy Humes has also set up a website, The Doc Humes Institute, to promote Humes and her documentary. You can also read a short sketch of Humes’ life and work at Wikipedia.

4 Responses to “H. L. Humes”

  1. Alan Cheuse Says:

    Modern Library will reprint both the Humes novels in
    trade paperback editions in January.
    A.C.

  2. editor Says:

    As Mr. Cheuse notes, Humes’ two novels are due to be reissued in new paperback editions (with the original hardback cover designs) by Random House. You can find them listed (without comment) on the Random House website at: http://www.randomhouse.com/randomhouse/authors/results.pperl?authorid=66018.

  3. Susan Jefferson Says:

    Hi there — does anyone know if Doc Humes left papers behind, and if so, are they available in a library or archive? Thank you . Susan.

  4. editor Says:

    There is nothing publicly listed about his papers, so I would recommend contacting his daughter, Immy, with your question.

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