One April evening a few weeks before he died, ailing James Jones sat by his fireplace with Willie Morris when a silence fell. Then Jones said suddenly, "" 'Goddamn I love you, Willie. You're my best friend.' After the longest moment I said: 'I love you too. You're the best friend I ever had.' "" That about sets the tone for Morris' memoir, a lament for a dead friend and a eulogy for his works. For the most part, Morris is clear-eyed about Jones' victories and failures, and his spirited defense of Some Came Running (which Jones thought was his best novel) may even rescue that behemoth from oblivion. He tells of his ten years as Jones' buddy and weaves together anecdotes from friends and other published materials to present a strong, often moving charcoal sketch of the man and writer. We follow his youth in Illinois, his well-to-do upbringing and then bottom-dog tour in the peacetime Army, his first attempts at writing in Honolulu, Pearl Harbor day at Schofield Barracks, combat on Guadalcanal and work with Graves Registration digging up corpses, his wound, Stateside hospitalization, discharge, first days with the Lowney Handy writers colony, talks with Maxwell Perkins at Scribners, early success, marriage to a Marilyn Monroe stand-in, gay life in Paris with the Paris Review crowd, and last years on Long Island, writing against death. The only flaw in this labor of love is that the quotes from Jones' works are so much more vigorous and hard-edged than the book we're reading.