This superb biography of James T. Farrell shows why the genre is so vital to an appreciation of literature and the literary life. Farrell is now an overlooked writer. To discover why this is so is to explore how his career played itself out and how literary fashions change, as well as to understand the roles politics, the publishing industry, and literary criticism play in making and breaking writers' reputations.

Born in 1904, Farrell grew up on Chicago's South Side among the Irish who would become the most important characters in his fiction. His father was a teamster who did a reasonably good job of supporting his large family. But Farrell was never close to his father, and he never understood why at the age of two he was shuffled off to his grandparents while the rest of his siblings remained at home.

This separation from home and hearth, so to speak, made the young and sensitive boy somewhat of an aloof observer. On one...


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