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Posted February 1, 2000
As publisher of the on-line journal Americana, I am always on the lookout for what a poet has called 'the pure products' of this country. Jim Tully is such a one. His short fiction was initially published in H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan's American Mercury. Tully's Beggars of Life was a best-seller in 1924, and was successfully dramatized and presented on Broadway as 'Outside Looking In' during the following year. Those who are enamored of reading about the life of hoboes and people who rode the rails may find this will be one of their favorite books. Tully writes in a spartan but never perfunctory style, and pulls no punches in recounting the graphic details of his rugged life on the road. From 1927 to 1932 he followed this book with four additional volumes touching upon his life and hard times: Circus Parade, Shanty Irish, Shadows of Men and Laughter In Hell. The first and third of these are the best. He also writes well about boxers in his first novel, 'Jarnegan,' cited below. From time to time he resembles a thoroughly unironic Ring Lardner, and one might fault him for a certain sentimentality which keeps his work from the top rank, but I've come across no better accounts of hoboing than his.
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