Friday, March 08, 2013

Forgotten Books: Circus Parade - Jim Tully

This post first appeared in slightly different form on June 28, 2007.

Having read and enjoyed Jim Tully’s memoir BEGGARS OF LIFE, about his life as a hobo during the early part of the Twentieth Century, I decided to try another of his books. CIRCUS PARADE is set during the same time period but focuses on a season that Tully spent traveling with a rather disreputable circus. It’s well-written and filled with circus lore, colorful characters, and both comedy and tragedy. Tully makes it seem as if the circus world was populated mostly by brutal, dishonest thugs, and to a certain extent that’s probably true. But there are a few sympathetic characters, such as Hilda, the 400-pound Strong Woman; Whiteface the Clown; and Jock, the livestock handler who was probably Tully’s best friend despite being a morphine addict.

CIRCUS PARADE is pretty episodic, and some of the episodes are so grotesque and over-the-top that you have to wonder if Tully made them up or at least embellished them. His books are supposed to be non-fiction, but I have a feeling that he didn’t always let the facts get in the way of a good story. Also, the sex and violence in this book must have been pretty shocking to readers in 1927, when it was originally published. Even a cynical old Adult Western writer like me was shocked a few times.

I didn’t like CIRCUS PARADE as much as I did BEGGARS OF LIFE, but I did enjoy it and found it to be well worth reading. I’m sure I’ll read more of Jim Tully’s books, too, but I’ll probably wait a while before trying another one.

By the way, I read the original edition, but the retitled paperback reprint has a better cover, so that's the one I've posted above.


John said...

Tully was friends with Harry Stephen Keeler who dedicated one of his loopy mystery novels to Tully. I see this book in used bookstores all the time and have been tempted to pick it up solely because of Tully's "Keeler Konnection." But for some reason I always thought is was juvenile fiction and I resisted. Obviously, I knew nothing about Tully. After reading this review I know the next time I see that stray copy of CIRCUS WORLD I'm buying it.

Rittster said...

Is this anything like Gresham's Nightmare Alley?

James Reasoner said...

I haven't read NIGHTMARE ALLEY, but from what I've heard about it, there might be some similarities, although Tully's book is supposed to be non-fiction.