One of the most brilliant intuitions in the long, brilliant editorial career of Maxwell Perkins, the legendary Scribner’s editor of Hemingway, Wolfe and Fitzgerald, was to offer James Jones a $500 advance for an unwritten novel on the pre-war U.S. Army, the pineapple army, set in Hawaii. By this time, February 1946, Jones had already finished two versions of his first (finally published in 2012) first novel, “They Shall Inherit the Laughter,” on Perkins, who had no intention of publishing it. It is easy to see why the novel was rejected—and why Perkins was attracted to Jones. “Laughter” is rambling and episodic in structure, self-indulgent and excessively bitter in tone, and patently derivative of Wolfe, Dos Passos, Steinbeck, and even Emerson and the American Transcendentalists. Toward the end, Jones even borrows Tom Joad’s “I’ll be there” speech from The Grapes of Wrath and applies it to the returning American soldier. Still, it contains some fine writing and is fascinating as a kind of preview of Jones’s later career. It incorporates, moreover, early versions of some of the most memorable scenes from Jones’s later work—for example, Lander’s speech about “the soldier’s responsibilities” to his Indiana hometown Elks Club in Whistle, “Mad” Welsh’s desperate attempt to help the painfully wounded Tella in The Thin Red Line, and several of the major episodes in Some Came Running. In fact, “Laughter” is, to a large degree, an early less successful version of Some Came Running. The hero, Johnny Carter, is a prototype for Richard Mast in The Pistol, Dave Hirsch in Some Came Running, Geoffrey Fife in The Thin Red Line, and Marion Landers in Whistle.
James Jones Journal 17 (spring 2009), 7-10