Shambling Towards Hiroshima

Posted by : atcampbell | On : January 4, 2010

Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow

Eleven people attended this discussion at the North Village Library. Our topic, a short novel by James Morrow, is a secret history about a weapons project conducted by the US Navy during World War II. While the Army was busy researching atomic bombs, the Navy was working on giant monsters to fight the Japanese enemy.  And a host of people from the American film industry were recruited to help them with their task.  Six of us had read Morrow before. All of us started and finished Shambling towards Hiroshima.

Several of us loved the idea of the Naval Giant Monster project. One person said the fantastic element worked for her, and activated her sense of wonder. Another commented that the story was oddly believable in a subversive way. The author played the story straight, which we agreed was the right strategy. We liked the cover, which fit the outrageous story.

Many of us enjoyed and “geeked out” at the Hollywood elements of the story. James Whale’s involvement moved the many of us who’d seen Gods and Monsters.  The intermingling of real and fictional film industry professionals worked.  The depiction of professional jealousy among rivals was particularly effective, and ended up being a strong driving force for the story.

We felt the book’s protagonist, actor/writer Syms Thorley, was a strong and engaging character. One person said his humanity was what drew her into the story. Another liked Syms’s description of his affection for smart women.

In general we felt that Morrow’s writing style was breezy, engaging, and easy to read. Several commented that the book was a “quick read.”

A handful of people in the group were longtime Morrow fans, and we enjoyed the book immensely. We delighted in his approach to satire, the clever writing, and the sly observations.

A few of us felt that the light tone of the Hollywood elements did not mesh well with the book’s serious messages about nuclear war, particularly near the end. One member said this felt like two books: a fun one he liked, followed by a preachy one he did not like.

Two members of the group did not enjoy the book much at all. They were not interested in the film industry, and commented that the book felt like a bunch of name-dropping that they did not understand. They also felt the diverse elements of the story just did not come together well.

A few of us complimented the research Morrow must have done in writing the book. One person was fascinated by the letters between Truman and Hiroshima.

Near the end, we talked about World War II and what it meant to us and our older relatives.

After the discussion, several of us had a nice dinner at Fuddrucker’s.

–A.T. Campbell, III