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Mort and Jim
Mort and James Houston

Excerpt from Striking Through the Masks

On Jim Houston

Another happy memory of that year was meeting James D. Houston. We both took old English and Colonial American literature together and struck up a conversation after one of the classes. Jim was six foot three, fair-haired, muscular, and handsome. He had been discharged from the air force the previous year and was determined to be a writer. When I met him he had already taken the fiction writing class twice, once under Malcolm Cowley and the second time under Frank O’Connor.

Jim and I would have intense conversations about fiction and fiction writers. His great discovery that year was Nathaniel West, whose four tightly constructed novels (none of which ran more than one hundred pages) intrigued him. I had read Miss Lonely Hearts and loved it, but Jim was especially taken with The Day of the Locust, West’s nightmarish novel of Hollywood outsiders. I didn’t know it then—and I don’t think Jim did either—but that novel marked the beginning of Jim’s lifelong literary quest to capture the California zeitgeist. Jim and I would meet in the quad, at the school cafeteria, my rented duplex, or his, and talk, talk, talk, or show each other what we were working on at the time.

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