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The Neon Wilderness

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  636 ratings  ·  37 reviews
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 amon ...more
Kindle Edition, 308 pages
Published November 30th 1946 by Seven Stories Press
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May 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Why isn’t Nelson Algren more popular? Why don’t the Bukowski/Fante/etc. acolytes include Algren in their pantheon? Is he too associated with Chicago? Too humble? Too terrifying? Not romantic enough? I don’t know, but Nelson Algren is fucking awesome, and the short story collection The Neon Wilderness is arguably his best work.

Full disclosure: I grew up in Chicago, and civic pride is a factor in my Algren fandom. I also recognize both the feel and neighborhoods Algren describes, although the latt
MaryJane Brodeck
“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
Mar 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary
Hemingway once said, "Mr. Algren, boy, you are really good." Many writers throughout the latter part of the century owe a lot to Nelson Algren. He's often very sadly overlooked. Algren is probably most known for "Walk on the Wildside," but for anyone who is discovering him for the first time, I would highly suggest "The Neon Wilderness." It's stripped-down 20th century prose at its best. Not to mention, the characters in these stories are all too real, but at the same time, strikingly unique; pa ...more
Bryan--Pumpkin Connoisseur
I took my time with this book, as I try to do with all single-author short story collections--when I read them too quickly, the style can get stale fast. But I took even more time with this one than usual, starting it over a year ago, and only picking it up now and then until this week, when I finally decided to clear it from my 'currently reading' shelf.

I wish I could say that I liked the book, but looking back over the titles and the first few sentences of some of the stories I'd read a few m
Lee Foust
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While not every story is perfect, there are enough emotional wallops in this collection to put it into the classics category. Wow. Algren has just about supplanted Hubert Selby jr. as my favorite writer of the suffering and anguish of the soul of the United States of America. At any rate they are peers, the poet's of the U.S.A.'s downtrodden, those too weak to scale the ladder of success, those born on the wrong side of the tracks, and those with just plain bad luck--everyone who finds themselve ...more
Jason McCracken
The Chicago Bukowski? Nah... Sure, everyone's a scumbag but the dialogue feels a little forced and the writing is a bit flowery for my tastes. None of the stories were bad though. 3.5 stars. ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm about half way through this collection and I'm struck by the inconsistent quality of the stories. Some are wonderful, feeling at times like an odd cocktail of Mailer, Kerouac and Carver. But some are soaked in slang (there's nothing more tiresome than the hipster slang of a bygone age), and have an overriding (and questionable) need to document (but certainly empathize with) the underclass which feels like pandering, or a writers idea of what a great American writer should be doing. By under ...more
A very good selection of short stories by Nelson Algren, a man who's writing has all but disappeared from both the popular and critical stage. My favorite story in this collection is "A Bottle of Milk for Mother," which I would like to someday make a film of. I feel that this story is the most poignant of the collection, though they all provide different perspectives on the poor, down-and-outs who missed the American Dream. An important predecesor to the Beat Generation, Algren's works should ha ...more
Rob Lloyd
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us, short-stories
This book really packs a punch. Incredibly raw tales about the strung out, the no-hopers, the vagabonds and the forgotten.

Do yourself a favour. There's nobody quite like Algren.
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is too fucking beautiful for words to describe.
I was told this is a good book to start with in reading Nelson Algren. All of these short stories were illuminating to various circumstances in which no one is doing what they should be. For example, the soldier has gone AWOL in Europe, the boxer purposely loses to earn a little extra, and a casual drug user lovingly shares heroin with his girlfriend.

All throughout, Algren effortlessly and clearly describes the struggles of the lower-class with admirable empathy. In one story, he illuminated a
Jul 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
My favourite part was the dedication: "For my mother and the memory of my father". And the introduction.
To revisit: the heroes, he couldn't boogie-woogie worth a damn, poor man's pennies, he swung and he missed, el presidente de mejico, kingdom city to cairo, per venceremos, no man's laughter
Charles Moore
Algren writes in a gritty, street-lingo manner that is sometimes hard to follow but he drops in through the narration some great observations and comments about the character's world that really ratchet up the level of these stories.

These are tough people living in tough neighborhoods but somehow Algren pulls out of them a humanness that surprises me. This outward expression is not written in slang or dialect but in very clear and concise prose that stands out because the reader is generally no
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Algren showed off his gritty prose with his own poetic rhythm in this collection of short stories. These stories take readers to the underbelly of yesteryear's Chicago with deeply flawed characters, tragedy after tragedy, and enough Chicago landmarks to warm any Chicagoans heart. Not all the short stories grabbed me, but a few will stick with me for a long time. ...more
Mar 28, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
A mixed bag (3.5) — some really excellent stories, though (e.g., “Depend on Aunt Elly”, “Design for Departure”, “He Couldn’t Boogie-Woogie Worth a Damn”). Others, however, are emotionally rigid — skid-row characters — a William Vollman of the 1940’s (without the extravagant pretensions).
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Some stories were better than others
I am not sure if it is just the audio version of this but it is pretty boring. I like Nelson Algren but I am not super enjoying these short stories. So this got put on the ditched pile.
Witty and still relevant, best book of January for me. Stories are fleshed out and full of feeling. Some of the best short stories ever written are in here. Hope you don't mind a little grime. Five stars here ...more
Feb 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"The Captain Has Bad Dreams," a story of a captain overseeing sentencings of criminals, is still one of my favorite stories of all time. This book, and Algren's others, really sort of blew me away, in that, rather than sentimentalizing the poor -- and I think Algren said this in an interview once -- a lot of them are simply "mean and stupid." But Algren shows them being mean and stupid and somehow still makes you care about them. That's some good writing. Algren also said the hardest thing to do ...more
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sh0rt stories written in the 1930's,40's and 50's. Two take place in a medical unit in WWII, one in a Texas jail, otherwise they exist spiritually in the restless half-light of pre-JFK America and physically within the claustrophobic sound of the omnipresent El. The characters are drunks, hop heads, hookers, petty criminals and habitual offenders in society's games. None of them ever stood a chance, most wouldn't recognize a chance if it punched them in the mouth. They are never going to get wha ...more
Sep 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Algren and his style. The way he captures people in thirties era lower socio-economic groups, their struggles, failures, and sad/hilarious ups and downs, is pretty good. Definitely set the stage for other writers and is rightfully coming back in vogue. Check it out if you like fiction/short vignettes about people on the other side of the tracks (mostly immigrant Poles with the a few Mexicans, Jews and Italians in the mix from the tenements of Chicago).
Feb 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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." ...more
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant collection of stories about ordinary people living ordinary, sad, tragic and courageous lives. Algren writes with deep empathy, cutting insight and sharp humor. One of my favorite books - this is the third or fourth time I’ve read it, and it’s always marvelous.
Aug 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up because of a line in a Hold Steady song, which is probably the dumbest reason for reading anything. Hit by amazing lowlife fables, dirtier than noir and without the glamor. Seedy, but so worthwhile. An amazing book.
Oct 25, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
compelling vignettes concerning the dispossessed in chicago. one of the more lyrical literary punctures of the american dream mythos.
Stephen Rynkiewicz
Short stories set in Polonia (now East Village) and elsewhere. Stranger than truth.
i just love this book. read it!
Jun 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great collection of short stories that illustrate the underbelly of the American Dream. I definitely recommend it.
Bill Hice
One of my favorite Algren books. Just so full of life and death in these little stories.
Apr 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
being somewhat of a Chicagoan, I liked these stories
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Born of Swedish-immigrant parents, Nelson Ahlgren Abraham moved at an early age from Detroit to Chicago. At Illinois University he studied journalism. His experiences as a migrant worker during the Depression provided the material for his first novel Somebody in Boots (1935). Throughout his life Algren identified with the American underdog. From 1936 to 1940 (the highpoint of left-wing ideas on th ...more

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