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Edward Newhouse, "Why Wait?," New Masses

March 12, 1935, p. 25

IF YOU have any doubts about this book, take it to the nearest Salvation post and if you can get a stiff who is not too far gone to read it, he will tell you that it is good. When Tom Kromer writes that even before a drag puffs around the bend, you can tell that it's too hot to nail by the sing in the rails, that stiff will verify it; unless, of course, he's a mission stiff. "All mission stiffs are sons of bitches," states Kromer.

The author's grandfather was crushed to death in a coal mine, and his father was a glass-blower who died of cancer at forty-four. Kromer himself hit the road at twenty-three to get harvesting work in Kansas. He never got that job or any other job, and this book is the story of several years' stemming.

It is a cruel and genuine book. It makes Jim Tully's sappy romanticism look sick. Do you remember Jim Tully? You will not forget Tom Kromer. You will remember how he spread newspapers over the three- decker flop, so that the lice should fall to the floor and break their necks. You will remember the chapter on Mrs. Carter and the other queer.

Somebody doing book reviewing chores in The Nation will call this novel "hardboiled as a result of certain outmoded technical and stylistic influences, "meaning Hemingway. This, because Kromer doesn't gurgle with the sort of rhetoric favored by Anthony Trollope and Scrooge's nephew; and he doesn't billow with the subordinate clauses which sometimes go under the heading of finer shadings. He knows that in certain situations, even life obliterates finer shadings." What is a man to do? I know well enough what he can do. All he can do is to try to keep his belly full of enough slop so that he won't rattle when he breathes. All he can do is find himself a lousy flop at night."

Kromer's sentences are short and clean-cut and charged to capacity. Sometimes they are super-saturated and cannot bear their load. The fact that his prose breaks down in a few places is partly due to his use, through-out, of the present tense, a device which I think ought to be saved for passages of un-usual speed or intensity. That's minor.

I hope no one starts beefing about the fact that this novel doesn't show "the way out." Kromer couldn't have shown a way out because he does not know of any. But he has described the life and the most prevalent moods of the stiff and placed them by implication into a well-defined social setting. Cops beat him up and a judge sentences him for vagrancy. That is a lot of social setting. When the word “revolution" occurs, Kromer writes, "You can stop a revolution of stiffs with a sack of toppin's. I have seen one bull kick a hundred stiffs off a drag. When a stiff's gut is empty, he hasn't got the guts to start anything. When his gut is full he just doesn't see any use in raising hell. What does a stiff want to raise hell for when his belly is full?"

That's not a hard one. Kromer fumbles pretty close to the answer when he is lying on the floor of a storehouse for pecans:

If a guy had any guts, he wouldn't put up with this. I think. Why should one guy have a million dollars, and I am down in the hole with pecans on top of me for covers? Maybe that guy has brains. Maybe he works hard. I don't know. What is that to me if he is there and I am here? Religion, they say in the missions. Religion and morals. What are religion and morals to me, if I am down in a hole with pecans on top of me? Who is there to say that this world belongs to certain guys? What right has one guy to say: This much of the world is mine; you can't sleep here?

That's not a hard one either. Tom Kromer knows that guys aren't on top because they have brains or because they work hard. He ought to know that only a revolution can take the world away from "certain guys." Nobody expects that revolution to be carried through by stiffs. But they can help; and not all stiffs are completely licked. Tom Kromer has proved that, by writing this book. Don't listen to the chump who wrote on his jacket blurb that the book contains no propaganda.

Where is the wheat? asks one of his characters. When I come through Kansas, they was burnin' the goddam stuff in the stoves because it was cheaper than coal. Out here they stand in line for hours for a stale loaf of bread. Where is the wheat, is what I want to know.

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