Willow Run was Glendon's very first published novel, in 1943, written after putting in nine-hour days as a riveter at the famous B-24 bomber plant outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He wrote it in six months, for he knew there was a market for a patriotic book about the war effort on the home front during this biggest of all wars. Sure enough, he got a small advance from a publisher and the novel was hurried into print after a page one rewrite. Glendon always acknowledged it in his backlist of titles, but he was embarrassed by Willow Run, referring to it sourly as "a piece of crap" in a short autobiography he wrote the year before he died, which is included in the latest compilation of his short stories, Easterns and Westerns, to be published by Michigan State University Press, summer of 2001.
Willow Run is a novel about blue-collar workers at this defense plant and is somewhat heavy on win-the-war speeches and lacks story and character development. While the book rhapsodizes about the details of building airplanes and a bit obvious in its symbolism, it does give a glimpse into the mind of factory workers under stress. Willow Run remains an amateurish first effort by a 23-year-old novelist dying to break into print, and is of interest solely to book collectors dying to own the entire Swarthout oeuvre.
"Swarthout's conception of his novel is an interesting and ambitious one and his book, in spite of weaknesses and inadequacies in creative ability, has a definite rhythm and vitality His ear is excellent in catching the locutions of the various workers who move through his scenes and episodes. One is left with the impression that he has fine material for a good novel but that he hasn't sufficiently absorbed and developed it." Rose Feld, New York Times Book Review.
"The brevity and crispness of the book is to be commended though the plot could have been rounded out a little more. The main characters might have been dealt with more fully in order to make the reader better acquainted with them. Nevertheless, it is good reading, a book that helps one pass a very good evening and leaves the reader with a great deal to think about." Ralph Hammett, Some Michigan Books.