“This was the true jungle, the neon wilderness. Sometimes, the dull red lights, off and on, off and on, made the spilled beer along the floor appear like darkly flowing blood. Sometimes the big juke sang.”
If you only have time to read one Algren book and want to understand him, then The Neon Wilderness is the book for you. Using his blunt style of writing, Algren vividly describes the struggles of drug dealers, hustlers and hookers during 1940’s Chicago. The people who saw the American dream as a pure illusion. Surviving in a world of crime by crime, yet they’re always the ones who get punished, always the biggest losers of the game. A shared feeling of humanity grows into the reader, that in the end, you care for every single character.
“The Captain Has Bad Dreams,” a story of a captain overseeing sentencing of criminals, is one of my favorite stories. Despite Algren showing the poor as “mean and stupid”, without sentimentalizing them, he delves into their unique human spirit, allowing the reader to feel compassion for them. As an important predecessor to the Beat Generation, Algren’s works should have a place on every dissident’s bookshelf.
Memorable Mondays are book reviews of my all time favorite books.