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We've somehow been reviewing Jim Black's books for almost twenty years now and interviewed him back in 2003. We've enjoyed all his books, but none has brought more joy than his latest, Life With Bingo, with co-author Jim Lewis. It's a coming-of-age story about a sixteen-year-old boy, Bingo, and his "best-friend-for-life dog," John, who run away from an abusive father in Center, TX (Mr. Black's own birthplace.) Both characters are immensely likable. Bingo's innocence appeals to many of the folks he meets on his travels, while his naivete makes him a mark for others. Because the former are far more prevalent, the decency of our fellow men shines forth. It's an antidote for our trying times.

The book is not derivative--it is distinctly its own--but it summons a number of other texts. When the Brothers were kids one of our favorite books was the great sportswriter Paul Gallico's The Boy Who Invented the Bubble Gun, subtitled "An Odyssey of Innocence," in which a similarly sweet 9-year-old sneaks off to Washington on a bus journey to patent the invention of the title. The authors directly mention one of the influences, John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley in Search of America, wherein the great author traveled with his own dog and chronicled the people he met and the country he saw along the way. There's a smidgen of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance without the pretension and mental illness and an episode where a real life artist crops up that reminds one of JD Salinger's turn in Shoeless Joe. And making the dog, John, not just a central character but a narrator of the story is reminiscent of a number of current mystery series, though he's more articulate than say Maggie, in Robert Crais's K-9 adventures. The last frisson of recognition here is personal, as I worked in some of West Texas towns the duo pass through for a semester in college and, like Bingo, could not wait to see mountains instead of flatlands.

It's always a mystery to me how folks manage to co-author books: perhaps just one was responsible for John's dialogue?(*) Whatever the case, the end result is seamless. This is not just a worthy addition to the body of Texas literature that Jim Black is building, but he and Mr. Lewis have given us as heart-warming a novel as you'll have read in some time.

(*) Got a nice note from Mr. Black after publishing this review which confirms that suspicion and adds some valuable detail about the book: " I began Life with Bingo ten years ago with John telling the story. One day I decided it would be better told by both. However, I was never satisfied with the voice I was giving Bingo. So I shelved it. Then, In late 2020, I came across it on my PC and had the idea to have someone else write Bingo's part. I wanted someone who was witty, philosophical, had a big heart and could write. The list shrank to one. My cousin, Jim Lewis, who is two years younger than me. (I'm 68). I told him the story was about a boy and his dog escaping an abusive home in Center, Texas and hitting the road. And that I wanted them to end up in Kalispell, MT. I also mentioned a few towns I wanted them to pass through along the way (as I had been to each previously). That's it. I sent him the Prologue and Chapter 1 and said "have at it." And he did. We began swapping chapters, never knowing what the other would write and simply reacted to what we read and carried on. It was great fun. We allowed ourselves six months to write it and wrote it in six weeks. Late one night I came across the cover photo on a premade book cover website. I loved it and purchased it. They did the complete cover for $89. I think we could have searched for a year and never found or designed a better one.

And now you know the rest of the story."


Grade: (A)


See also:

Jim Black (4 books reviewed)
General Literature
Jim Black Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Jim Black Books
    -BOOKSITE: Life with Bingo (Outskirts Press)
    -BOOK SITE: River Season
    -BOOK SITE: Miracle on the Gridiron (Outskirts Press)
    -VIDEO: Miracle on the Gridiron (YouTube)
    -GOOGLE BOOK : Miracle on the Gridiron
    -REVIEW: of Life with Bingo by Jim Black and Jim Lewis (The Dusty Jacket)
    -REVIEW: of River Season by Jim Black (Publishers Weekly)
    -ARTICLE: New book recounts Graves' tough love (Nick Gholson, Nov. 21, 2009, Times News-Record)
    -ARTICLE: Sports Spotlight: 1964 State Champs Archer City Wildcats Football Team (Jermaine Ferrell, 09/17 2014, Texomas)

Book-related and General Links: