LONG LINE RIDER: The Story of Cummins Prison Farm by K Wymand Keith (McGraw Hill, 1971)
There comes a time in every reader's life when only a southern chain gang book will do. The maggoty grits, the soul destroying labor, the firm discipline--ya'll have gotta love those wacky penalogical antics of our Southern brothers.
Sadly, outside of some weevils and a guy beaten to death for stealing some sorghum syrup, LLR just doesn't deliver. Apparently the author pulled 5 at the Arkansas State Prison (farm division) in the '50s. But he somehow weaseled his way out of even having to pick cotton. And even the guys who did the picking apparently were sans chains. What kind of pussy prison is this? I don't care how many guys get strapped to death or get their balls run via the Tucker telephone. We want chains. We want I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, or at least LONESOME ROAD. (1/27/97)
CIRCUS PARADE by Jim Tully (1927)
Tully's a cult writer among us fans of bum literature. I believe no less a figure than Charles Willeford expressed interest in writing his bio. So you know he's cool.
He's no brilliant writer, but because he lived what he wrote we can forgive him his literary trespasses. Here, he writes of his tramping days with a circus (complete with sideshow!) around the turn of the century. As always, his prose is awkward and somewhat overwritten. But it's also unstining and unrelenting in delivering that vital component of bum books: sleaze.
Tully make you forget your Toby Tyler fantasies, as this circus is heavy on vermin and body odor. As he describes it, the joint is lousy with crooked gamblers, short change artists, pick-pockets, and virtually every other category of small-time thief. This is not hear-felt nostalgia. The chief barker ("spieler"): "An ex-bruiser of the old school, he had served 5 years in a southern penitentiary for a crime unspeakable. The boy was injured internally." Ouch!