Book Review: Readings

James Vance


by James Vance and Dan Burr

Norton, 200 pp., $16.95 (paper)

America's Great Depression of the 1930s isn't the backdrop for this story; it is the story, embodied by a diverse cast of characters struggling to survive the deprivations and horrors of unremitting poverty, of politically motivated violence, of constant vagabonding with no direction home.

The narrative follows Freddie, a small-town teenager, parentless, who's on the lam from the law. Having ditched the last crumbling remnant of subsistence, the boy's got nowhere to go but down – and out, into the train-tracked world of stew bums and bindlestiffs, jockers and preshuns, yeggs and dregs and others who frequently define the depths of unsavory. Freddie hooks up with an experienced hobo named Joker and accompanies him on a far-ranging journey through the underbelly of the beleaguered States, meeting adversity and adventure, edging toward manhood as he grows accustomed to a life spent on the move and with seldom a safe harbor in which to rest.

James Vance has done his research well and imbues this story, a markedly different and much-expanded version of his earlier stageplay On The Ropes, with details more than sufficient to immerse the reader in the times and places Freddie lives through, with characters nuanced enough to give a damn about. The artwork by Dan Burr is realistic and straightforward, rendering the action and its lulls in lovingly detailed images, the pace and shape of panels progressing so cinematically that you might imagine the ghost of John Ford kibitzing from the shadows.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Wayne Alan Brenner
Carter Creek Wines are Light, Bright, and Make for a Perfect Night
Carter Creek Wines are Light, Bright, and Make for a Perfect Night
Hill Country winery offers a fine array of tipples for Texans

Jan. 15, 2021

PrintAustin 2021 Reproduces Community Online and Off
PrintAustin 2021 Reproduces Community Online and Off
At this celebration of printmaking it's gather, prints, repeat

Jan. 15, 2021


Kings in Disguise, James Vance, Dan Burr, Norton

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle