CONNELL, EVAN S[HELBY]., JR. (1924– ). Born in Kansas City and
educated at Dartmouth, Columbia, and Stanford, Evan S. Connell Jr. remains best known for his novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969).
Connell wrote the screenplay of the 1990 film adaptation that combined
these two titles; it was directed by James Ivory and starred Paul Newman.
He has also written several works about the sea, including two volumes of
poetry, Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel (1963) and Points
for a Compass Rose (1973). A Naval Air Force veteran, Connell criticizes
the military in The Patriot (1960), the story of Melvin Isaacs, a misfit in the
air force who finally crashes his plane and is discharged. At the end of the
novel, Isaacs refuses to fight in the upcoming war between the United States
and the Soviet Union, a pacifist in defiance of his father’s militarism.
Connell describes the Antarctic* expeditions made by Apsley Cherry Garrard, Sir Douglas Mawson, Roald Amundsen, and Robert Scott in The White Lantern (1980), a collection of nonfiction travel accounts. The title refers
to Antarctica’s great ice sheets, which radiate light into space, a phenomenon that astronauts term a “white lantern.” In the same collection, Connell
describes Norse journeys to America, as well as King Gustavus Adolphus’
fated dreadnought Vasa, the intended flagship for his armed forces that sank
only one mile out of port.
Connell has also written war stories about navy bombers, including
“Crash Landing” and “The Yellow Raft,” as well as sea-related stories like
“The Caribbean* Provedor,” “The Cuban Missile Crisis,” and “The Fisherman from Chihuahua,” all reprinted in The Collected Stories of Evan S.
Connell (1995). “The Fisherman from Chihuahua,” in fact, glosses Connell’s method in his two collections of poetry. As Pendleton, the story’s
principal character, suggests, the beach attracts the detritus of ocean currents. Connell uses “beach” and “compass” as metaphors for serendipity;
hence, his epic-length poems are the repositories for historical and cultural
artifacts that randomly wash up on the shore, for which readers are invited
to construct their own narrative.