Corpus of Joe Bailey is a peculiar novel in that it contains a nearly perfectly formed novella in the middle. Book Three, focusing on the protagonist's college days at Berkeley, is sufficiently different from the rest of the book to suggest that it was written separately. I wonder if this section, which runs 135 pages, could be reprinted on its own. It would make a nice companion to two other UC undergraduate novels, The Western Shore and Senior Spring. In 2007 Oakley Hall (1920-2008) revisited prewar San Diego in another semi-autobiographical novel, Love and War in California.
Corpus of Joe Bailey by Oakley Hall. Viking Press (1953), 479 pp.
This story covers twenty years in the lives of Joe Bailey and his family and friends. It begins in 1928 in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego, when Joe is eleven and learns of the death of his mother. It continues with teen-age experiences during the Depression, goes on to fraternity life at Berkeley, pretty much skips Joe's experiences in World War II, and ends with his efforts to settle in to postwar America. Many other characters enter into the story, particularly Con, a childhood friend who later becomes his lover. Through it all Joe copes with his insecurities, which manifest themselves in different ways during different episodes and stifle his attempts to find direction to his life.
This is a long, serious book filled with psychological insights and well-drawn characters. The author based the novel, in broad outlines at least, on his own life. Readers will hope that Hall’s real-life friends came out better than Joe’s friends in the book. Almost everyone has either a sexual problem (such as old friend Peter, who can’t accept his homosexual feelings) or a deeper psychological problem that reveals itself through ungratifying sexual behavior of one sort or another. The third-person narrator leaves Joe fairly often to enter the mind of Con, Peter, and lesser characters. This is especially true of the long segment set in Berkeley. Many figures show up there who are not directly related to the course of Joe’s life but serve instead to give a rounded look at fraternity values and interactions. All in all, Hall has succeeded in creating a novel that allows readers to understand its characters and the times in which they lived.