Wyn Berry, the former wife of Don Berry, lives on Vashon Island, Washington. She looks back on the writing of “Trask,” and the shaping of its emotional conclusion.
In the late fall of 1958, we were living at Peach Cove on the Willamette River, south of Portland. We were managing financially, but barely. Three kids in the same independent school, Catlin Gabel, where I taught, 40 miles away, my salary our only income. Berry wrote obsessively in those years, on a portable Olivetti typewriter in the old red barn across the garden from the Red House in which we lived.
While preparations were underway at Viking Press for Berry’s first novel, “Trask,” to be published, his agent, Barthold Fles, sent a copy to Readers Digest owner-editor Lila Wallace. One day, Berry received an amazing letter from her saying she would fly him to San Francisco if he’d come and talk with her about the book. The possibility of a lucrative publication with the popular Digest was truly exciting!
Needless to say, Berry decided to go and hear what Mrs. Wallace had in mind. This could be the big break that every beginning writer dreams of. With high hopes, I took him to the airport. He was back the next day.
“Well, what did she say? Will she take it?” I pressed, the moment he got into the car.
“No, she said I had not completed the story. She wanted me to add a chapter,” he said tersely, “I refused. I’ll not change my writing for anyone. It is as it stands.”
My heart sank, even though I respected his standing up for his principles. So that was that. Quietly, we drove home.
But almost a year later, Berry reread his manuscript, went out to the barn, and all through the night, bombarded by nesting peregrine falcons and a young barn owl, he wrote the glorious last chapter. “Trask” was in galleys by that time, so he had to talk Viking into adding it, but they did.
“Trask,” in the timeless, profound, popular book it has become, was published in 1960. Berry refused to send this final version to Mrs. Wallace. He could not admit to being wrong, but he had realized it, and completed the book after all.