As rock and roll novelist Tom Carson writes in his introduction, “The Neon Wilderness is the pivotal book of Nelson Algren’s career–the one which bid a subdued but determined farewell to everything that had earlier made him no more than just another good writer, and inaugurated the idiosyncratic, bedevilled, cantankerously poetic sensibility that would see him ranked among the few literary originals of his times.” Algren’s classic 1947 short story collection is the pure vein Algren would mine for all his subsequent novels and stories. The stories in this collection are literary triumphs that “don’t fade away.” Among the stories included here are “A Bottle of Milk for Mother,” about a Chicago youth being cornered for a murder, and “The Face on the Barrome Floor,” in which a legless man pummels another man nearly to death–the seeds that would grow into the novel Never Come Morning. Algren’s World War II stories whose final expression would be in the novel The Man with the Golden Arm are also part of this collection. “So Help Me,” Algren’s first published work, is here. Other stories include, “The Captain Has Bad Dreams,” in which Algren first introduced the character of the blameless captain who feels such a heavy burden of guilt and wonders why the criminal offenders he sees seem to feel no guilt at all. And then there is “Design for Departure,” in which a young woman drifting into hooking and addiction sees her own dreaminess outlasting her hopes.
One of the most neglected of modern American authors and also one of the best loved, NELSON ALGREN (1909–1981) believed that “literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by conscience in touch… More about Nelson Algren
“Once more I have been impressed by Algren’s talent, his probity, and his command of a tough language that he transforms into a raw and bleeding poetry.” —The Nation
“Mr. Algren, boy are you good—one of the two best authors in America.” —Ernest Hemingway
“Since the publication of The Neon Wilderness … Nelson Algren has been 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.” —Donald Barthelme
“When I first read The Neon Wilderness I was knocked out and the funny thing is, as I re-read it I was KO’d again. That’s the thing: Nelson’s stories are part of our lasting literature. They don’t fade away.” —Studs Terkel, from the Afterword
“Algren’s short stories are now generally acknowledged to be literary triumphs.” —New York Times