John Ed Bradley Biography
Nationality: American. Born: Opelousas, Louisiana, 1958. Education: Louisiana State University, B.A. 1980. Career: Staff writer, Washington Post, 1983-87; contributing writer, Washington Post, 1988-89. Since 1991 contributing editor, Esquire; since 1993 contributing writer, Sports Illustrated. Agent: Esther Newberg, International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, New York 10019, U.S.A.
Tupelo Nights. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, and London, Bloomsbury, 1988.
The Best There Ever Was. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, andLondon, Bloomsbury, 1990.
Love and Obits. New York, Holt, and London, Bloomsbury, 1992.
Smoke. New York, Holt, 1994.
My Juliet. New York, Doubleday, 2000.
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John Ed Bradley's first novel establishes his niche in the tradition of southern Gothic writers. Emphasis on the grotesque, the macabre, and the excessive pull of environment is predominant. Much of the setting in Tupelo Nights features the local cemetery, where the hero's best friend is a gravedigger and where he meets Emma Groves, the love of his life. Emma goes every night to pray at the grave of her infant son. The cemetery motif is constant. John Girlie, the novel's antihero, works the graveyard shift at a pipeline company, and images of death haunt the book.
Girlie had been an all-America football player at Louisiana State University and had a promising offer to play professional football. Under his domineering mother's influence, however, he returns to his hometown and cannot until late in the novel extricate himself from his oedipal situation.
At times Bradley's plot flirts with melodrama, but this is more than overcome by his keen gift for dialogue and vivid descriptions that are often poetically lyrical. Bradley captures the atmosphere of time and place with persuasive authenticity, totally immersing the reader in the stifling environment and grimness of Girlie's small Louisiana town.
Harold Gravely, the main figure in The Best There Ever Was, is a college football coach in his sixties. Almost thirty years ago his team won the national championship. Since then Gravely's teams have had mostly losing seasons, and the students, alumni, and college officials want him to resign. Learning that he has lung cancer, he decides to forego any treatment in the hope that the situation generated by his condition will force the college administration to renew his contract so that he can coach one final year.
The figure of Coach Gravely is drawn with believable and persuasive strokes perfectly conveying his loud, egotistical, and overbearing temperament. As the Old Man, a term he favors, he is a memorable if unpleasant character. Bradley also cleverly uses comedy to satirize the coach and emphasize the grotesque aspects of the situation. The novel's weakness is that often the descriptions of Gravely and many of the episodes he is involved in become essentially repetitive. The book at times becomes too wordy; too much material is presented. Even after the coach is murdered, many additional pages are devoted to his widow; this leads to a feeble anticlimax.
Joseph Burke, in Love and Obits, is a newspaper reporter who has been demoted to writing obituaries. Divorced, Burke lives with his wheelchair-bound father. Although he and his father are on good terms, Joseph is presented as one of the melancholy, lonely men who walk about the city at night looking for something they never had or for something they have lost and will never find again.
Burke's father, Woody, takes on more cheerfulness and hope when he falls in love with his day care nurse; Burke himself becomes more positive when he attracts the attention of widow Laura Vannoy. Burke had written the obituary article about her prominent husband, so even love is entwined with death. At the book's end, Woody, in an epiphany of love, performs a Christ-like action of feeding his fisherman's catch to the poor.
Smoke is both a continuation of previous characteristics of Bradley's work and a worrisome development, which was present on occasion in the earlier books. Smoke is a small town in Louisiana where Jay Carnihan's goal is to kidnap Monster Mart's founder, billionaire Rayford Holly, and require him to apologize for forcing so many downtown stores in America out of business. Kidnapped on one of his nationwide inspection trips, Holly proves to be an exceedingly lovable, down-to-earth individual who even pitches in as a short order cook at the lunch counter of Carnihan's small store.
Again, Bradley demonstrates his gifted talent for recording dialogue and lively characterization, but the narrative becomes too far-fetched. There comes a point when a tall tale can become too tall, when a novel can sprawl to an excessive degree, and when even an admirable talent can be overwhelmed by too many episodes, too many words, too drawn out a plot, and an unconvincing conclusion. As in The Best There Ever Was, Bradley does not seem to know when to stop, and melodrama and sentimentality predominate. Even the theme of love over death, which was so effectively presented in Love and Obits, becomes mawkish and cloying in Smoke.
Bradley is a considerable talent in handling dialogue and characterization, but he must temper plot excesses and a tendency to overelaborate a narrative.
—Paul A. Doyle
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