Stark House. Sept. 2022. 204p. ISBN 9798886010077. pap. $12.99. MEMOIR
“Well, here I am at last.” Sentenced to spend five years to life in prison for the armed robbery of a dance hall, in 1925 young Bob Tasker was stunned and bewildered as he passed through the gates of San Quentin, yet with the presence of mind to observe “the architecture was abominable,” as contrasted with the “careless grandeur” of a great ragged dahlia in the yard. Such keen observations would serve Tasker well years later as a Hollywood screenwriter, but only after a five-year struggle to find himself and his vocation in the harsh and dehumanizing environs of prison, as revealed with impressionistic candor in his first and only book. Relating the routines and lore of life behind bars, Tasker eschews hardboiled posturing, confessing to bouts of depression, terror, and despair that often centered around periodic executions. Salvation came through books, as Tasker and his circle of friends devoured and discussed Freud and James Branch Cabell, among others, turning to writing themselves with the eventual backing of H.L. Mencken and hobo writer Jim Tully.
VERDICT Tasker’s (1903–44) unromantic, soul-baring account combines the authenticity of memoir with the stirring progress of a bildungsroman. A worthy revival.
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