Lies! Lies! Lies!

a review

by

Jan Quackenbush

At about four o’clock on a spring afternoon, June 25th, 1951, a nicely dressed, slim and handsome-looking high school senior, John Champlin Gardner, Jr., took his alphabetical place in line at the Dipson Batavia Theatre. In a few moments he would receive his diploma and graduate from Batavia High School, closing one chapter of his life and beginning a new one.

Behind him would be the farm life on Putnam Settlement Road, the Eagle Scout award from Troop 7, the Civic Orchestra in town where he had played French horn at age fourteen, and, now, his more recent achievements--the High School Band concert that had been held on Sunday afternoon, March 11th, the Department of Music Education’s Instrumental Concert held on Sunday afternoon, April 15th, the High School play, "What A Life," on Friday, April 27th, when John played "Henry Aldrich, A Student," and, a couple weeks ago, on Friday, June 8th, the Recital of the Eastman School of Music when John on French horn had amply represented his demanding Czarist teacher, Mr. Yegudkin.

But of all John's accomplishments to date, the one that most signified his present stature in the world lay in a bureau drawer back home, the letter in April from DePauw University informing him that he had been awarded the coveted Rector Scholarship, one of 100 granted this term and which could range up to $1,800 for the full four-year course.

John would embark on a curriculum toward becoming a chemist. But certainly after a year of it, the "lie" would be stamped on John’s heart, as more than anything else in the world--which he clearly expresses in his fascinating, sophomore-year journal, LIES! LIES! LIES!, John wanted to be a writer. Even so, like John says at the end of his very first entry: "Still, I can be true to character in writing."

"LIES! LIES! LIES!" is all about truth--exploring for truth, recognizing truth, distinguishing truth--differentiating the "sincere" from the "insincere."

The journal shows John having a propensity for applying an argumentative, near "scientific method"--collecting facts, weighing and testing them for results--when evaluating the worthiness of an author’s way with writing. The reader will enjoy John’s entry of "10-October-52 Friday" in which firstly he assails Daniel Defoe’s novel, Moll Flanders: "...328 (Everyman’s Edition) pages of unparalleled, incomparable, unrivaled, unbelievable, uninhibited rot." and then next writes a "burlesque" version of a passage in order to satirically test Defoe’s manner of composition. Although he is writing only a journal, John exudes a level of certainty that seems precocious for a sophomore. He is already engaging literary lions in skirmishes, foreshadowing the "On Moral Fiction" to come. Meanwhile this young John is honestly, often humorously, a critic of his own life and faults.

Theories, values, questions, testing: it interests me to note that John’s historical era here--America in the early ‘50’s--comprised a populace stewing for some change in the grayly conservative late-Truman, early Eisenhower Age, in the aftermath of two major wars, WW II and the Korean. Culturally, Jazz was hot, Kerouac flashed "on the road" with Neal Cassady, Go, a novel by John Clellon Holmes, published in 1952, for the first time expressed the phrase "Beat Generation." While John’s journal shows the sophomore studiously concerned with classics, John could not have been immune from the sense of a new "energia" flickering in the land. Here at DePauw, in his youth, in his young manhood, while undergoing transition from chemist to writer, John stared face-to-face at his own "mood" driven self, forcing a confrontation with his destiny: "A mood is with me...It tells me I'm a fool, and more than that, college is a national lie... I don't want your slimy degrees. I want stuff I can use when I want to write."

John is very brave in introspection, deeply "sincere" in self-expression. In these entries, he manages to dive beneath the surface of both his exterior world--class ordeals, fraternity whoops--and his interior concerns, "Education vs. Learning," for example, and still come up Whitmanesque with an altogether precious song of himself.

And the reader will want to know that Gardner’s roommate at DePauw, John Berry (aka. "the Goose"), was a neighbor of his from Putnam Settlement Road in Batavia, New York. John Berry would soon be "best man" to John in his wedding to Miss Joan Louise Patterson, in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 6, 1953.