Thursday, November 5, 2009
Thoughts on Algren
Reading Algren's Chicago City on the Make was a great experience for me. Having read Algren before, namely a short story collection Entrapment and Other Writings as well as The Man with the Golden Arm, which I am lucky enough to have a signed copy of! (Aside note: apparently my Grandpa on my Father's side, who was a Chicago artist, hung out with him back when all the Chicago artists and writers went drinking together...my Dad gave me my Grandpa's signed copy of Man with The Golden Arm. Unfortunately my Dad doesn't know too much beyond the fact that my grandpa knew him and my Grandpa passed away when I was too young to care who Nelson Algren was because I was buys reading The Box Car Children and Baby Sitters Club.) Anyway, as we talked about in class, City on the Make can be a hard book to get a grasp on, if on approaches it as a novel. We don't really have any characters to grab onto, or a typical narrative arc. It is interesting to approach a book and have certain expectations, and when those expectations aren't met it is easy to be turned off to the book. However, I think it is great if we can shut down our expectations, or look at a book such as City on the Make, and see at as an extended prose poem, and that makes all the esoteric language and ambiguity of the book more acceptable, just by labeling it differently. I felt in a way that City on the Make is Algren's love letter to a city he couldn't get enough of, and this is his heart on the page to the place he loved. I feel that as Sandburg wrote poetry about and for the every man, Algren wrote prose about and for the everyman, and I agree with those that see a close similarity in style and subject matter to Bukowski. Donald Barthelme said of Algren, "Nelson Algrenhasbeen acknowledged as a master of that American Realism touched with poetry, which attempts to give voice to the insulted and injured. He is a philosopher of deprivation, a moral force of considerable dimensions, and a wonderful user of the language." And Ross MacDonald said, "Nelson Algren could take about hell in such a way that he touched Heaven." Algren saw beauty in the ordinary, or beyond that, Algren made the ordinary, or not even the ordinary, but depravity, and made it lyrical through language, but does not soften the blow of the reality. Algren shoots for the heart and hits.