Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Life is a handful of short stories, pretending to be a novel."

Book: The Neon Wilderness

Author: Nelson Algren

Published: 1965 (Berkley Publishing Corporation, this edition at least)

Pages: 222

These stories are hard little punches of grim realism about people who can’t rise above the squalor of their lives. Some of them don’t even want to. A lot of them are losing boxers or disillusioned soldiers or beaten women. The rest are drunks and thieves, and boasters to a one. They all talk along a spectrum of Chicago dialect that’s surprising dense to get through and are all buried in bad luck they generally make for themselves.

And damned if it isn’t enjoyable to read about all of them. How does that even work?

All the gritty impulses Hemingway wants for himself, Algen has, plus a good sense of humor and a more baroque way of capturing complex emotions (PEOPLE FEEL THINGS AND IT’S COMPLICATED, HEMINGWAY) while staying true to whatever voice he’s channeling in a particular narrative. Which he manages to make sound completely unique each time, even though he’s basically writing about the same exact sort of people.

He also has a way of writing a last sentence that neatly wraps up each story, a feat I shall now attempt, and—oh, dammit, I already lost that one. 

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