Adventures in Reading

Revisted: Nelson Algren’s Never Come Morning

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.


“Center of Gravity” by L. J. Amster

“The railroad yard bull squinted closely at the picture on the card that said I was licensed to box in Illinois.”

Launching the Best American Short Stories of 1965 is L. J. Amster’s short story “Center of Gravity.” At 56-pages, it is one of the longest stories in the collection. I have read “Center of Gravity” three times now and while I can say I have appreciated it I cannot say I really have enjoyed the story. Our narrator is arrested for illegally riding on freight cars, is put into jail though allowed to box, and when he returns to prison is “caged” by the sheriff and his men to be held for what Amster suggests as an indeterminate time to fight when they want him to.

The “rules” that exist within the book’s world are always murky. A barber moonlights as the justice of the peace, the Jewish narrator recently threw a fight, boys are let out of jail to box, the sheriff and his men are drinking, and there’s a stop in at a regularly closed down roadside house. Though I don’t necessarily like comparing short stories and novels, I found “Center of Gravity” to be fairly reminiscent of Nelson Algren’s Never Come Morning or Meridel Le Sueur’s The Girl.

Within these 56-pages there is a great deal happening and Amster appeals to the reader with some beautifully portrayed moments and details: the narrator’s photo looking “as if [he] were wearing a large white flower behind [his] right ear” or the temptation and denial sequence between the turnkey’s bone and a dog, which becomes a central theme of the story.

I suppose part of my disconnection with “Center of Gravity” involves literature and Chicago and literature and boxing: both two areas that have quite tough acts to follow. Amster’s book simply didn’t offer a refreshing or grimy enough appeal. However, I also believe that “Center of Gravity” would be an excellent story to read in a group or for a class and I hesitate to develop any final opinion if only because there is a lot – even much more than I’ve already mentioned – going on in the story. I found it to be a tough one to swallow on my own.

Comments Off on “Center of Gravity” by L. J. Amster