Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: boxing, chicago, fiction, nelson algren, never come morning, poetry, prostitution, quotes, righteous man, short stories, walt whitman, world war
I’m trying to think of why I first read Nelson Algren and of all the books, especially when considering the more popular The Man With the Golden Arm, I stumbled across Never Come Morning. But this is my second time reading it and it was no less emotional, heart wrenching, and brilliant than the first time around. It is such a powerful book and always encourages me to reconsider books such as The Jungle or The Grapes of Wrath as social commentary-lite or at least a more acceptable version prepared for society (granted, I understand the stir both of these books have caused in their lifetime). Because where Updike and Steinbeck provide the reader with the idea of hope at the end of their novels, Algren punches you in the gut and leaves you teary eyed and gasping for breath.
Never Come Morning is a book of boxing. It is a book about prostitution. It is a book about Poles on the North West side of Chicago. It is a book about the division between citizen and cop. It is a book of the indignities of the righteous man. It is a book about survival and that if for no other reason the idea, ambition, and ability to survive in the world should be respected. It’s a book of desires unfulfilled.
As a social commentary, Algren describes it best when saying “I felt that if we did not understand what was happening to men and women who shared all the horrors but none of the privileges of our civilization, then we did not know what was happening to ourselves.” It is also interesting in the history of social commentaries that Algren is not attempting to create the noble peasant or the noble worker, but is trying to squarely represent the result of dehumanizing people in our society. “Algren said in effect, ‘Hey—an awful lot of these people you hearts are bleeding for are really mean and stupid. That’s just a fact. Did you know that?’” But this brutally realistic observation of society doesn’t impede him from opening Never Come Morning with a Whitman quote: “I feel I am of them—/I belong to those convicts and prostitutes myself—/And henceforth I will not deny them—/For how can I deny myself?”
I also found it interesting that Never Come Morning includes in expanded form Algren’s short story “A Bottle of Milk for Mother” as the middle of the novel. Like Murakami’s “A Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” which later became a novel by the same name, it’s been interesting to find novels starting as the tightly packed and complex short story that sprawl out into novels.