Rise and Fall of a One-Hit Wunderkind

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ows_137236887772431Dreadful: The Short Life and Gay Times of John Horne Burns
by David Margolick
Other Press. 382 pages, $20.95

 

“JOHN HORNE BURNS, Novelist, 36, Dies,” began the headline of the one-column obituary in The New York Times. “Author of The Gallery, Called Best War Book of 1947, Also Wrote About Life in Boys’ School.” The year was 1953, and it was just over six years since the publication of Burns’ first book, The Gallery, which brought him tremendous acclaim. Indeed, so strong was his talent thought to be that his publisher contracted to purchase his next two books as well. As it happened, those two works—the novels Lucifer with a Book (1949) and A Cry of Children (1952)—were roundly attacked by the critics. Burns’ final novel, A Stranger’s Guise, was rejected by both his British and American publishers shortly before his death.

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