Books: Captive Poet

JAMES AGEE: A LIFE by Laurence Bergreen Dutton; 467 pages; $20

One May night in Tennessee, when James Rums Agee was six years old, his father drove off the Clinton Pike. One wheel of his Ford was still spinning in the air when the first witness arrived. Jay Agee lay face down about a foot from the car, his clothes scarcely mussed. The only sign of violence was a small cut on the chin.

James Agee spent the rest of his life trying to understand his father's absurd end, spinning his own wheels as...

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