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on 5 December 2008
This is a fantastic novel by one of the greatest American writers of the last century. An unflinching, sometimes harrowing portrayal of a doomed drifter and the low life characters he finds himself rubbing shoulders with in a New Orleans brothel.

Algren, like his French equivalents Celine and Zola, manages to inhabit a world of impoverished dreamers and losers, holding up a cracked mirror to their tragic lives without ever patronising or judging them. Instead he depicts them as real people trapped in a cycle of poverty and despair, people who dream of something better despite having been damned to a lifetime of anything but. People who dare to hope in the face of inevitabilities older than the ground they walk on, setting themselves up for tragic endings they see coming from a mile off.

This was Algren's gift and that is why this is a great book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 September 2009
Algren makes the early thirties in America come gloriously alive in this book. Dove, son of a preacher, leaves home in the country to live in New Orleans and make his fortune. What he finds in that benighted city is a scum of thieves and bar girls, men on the make, and a city of violence and beauty. In the language of the time Nelson Algren creates a heartstruck and brutal poem of his time in this truly original book. Rape, murder and robbery, conning, pimping and boozing, are just some of the crimes perpetrated by Dove, yet he remains supremely human and understandable throughout.

This is a different world, America growing more grotesque in the light of it's political will and it's heaving, spitting, degenerative hypocrisy. It is funny, gripping, heartbreaking and tremendously alive. Thrumming with heat and dust and dirt; a fantastic read, headlong and unremitting, it grabs you by the throat and squeezes a half-horrified, half-entranced reaction. Brilliant, linguistically groundbreaking, emotionally roller-coasting, beautiful and terrible, a surreal dream of lives and deaths - it is stunning.
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Interestingly Algren punctured the American balloon of pomposity and alerted the world to the preening lack of confidence in the new world. The heir of Celine, Dreiser and Upton Sinclair, Algren materialises a world lying the in the recess of the collective memory. He captures a time when the American economy snapped like a rubber band. The result literally was no work and no money for the mass population.

During the American collapse Algren went to New Orleans and plied a hairdressing scam, extracting money from women equally poor. This book is based on the devastation of the 29 crash on the young growing up with literally no future carved out for them and how they twist and turn to survive. This period from 1930-1940 stretched as an infinity for the participants. Now the memory ducts have been backfilled with musicals and Roosevelts New Deal, as if the future was always bright and it just had to unfold as it did. For those who existed at the time there was no emotional lifebelt of a secure future just the endless capracity of existence. the 2nd world war had yet to unfold and save America from financial and social ruin through bleeding Europe of its possessions.

When Algren published, the plaudits were slow to emerge. Whilst the books shifted units, the literary establishment looked askance at why anyone would want to immerse themselves in the attributes of lower life forms. A sense of reading about working class life would inevitably taint one's culture and pollute the reader. The bourgeois performing similar animal functions and having venal jealousies and a will to power had been carefully disguised under the camouflage of manners. Its exposure marked a social and cultural distance.

Celine and Algren paraded their dirty underwear and rubbed the noses of the reader in the skidmarks and cesspit of life. Instead of sand and dust and dirt a new form of beauty emerged, a more realitic world than the watercolour pastellated world of the considered 19th C greats. It is only through confronting the void it can be transcended, the greatness of Algren, he journeyed to those places in the mind and did not flinch with hypocracy whilst a lesser writer may have rolled with the punches.

Instead he gave society a haymaker and paved the way for realism, banging down the doors for Bukowski and the beats. Before the Beats; Studs Terkel, Algren, D Beauvoir and Sartre were fathered by the bete noir of the 20th C Dr. Destouches. The midwife of the 20thC fathered many children and each of them added another dimension to existence and being.Algren pushes aside the velvet curtains of the Musical and brings you real life for those who have the stomach, steeped in empathy but don't expect the Hollywood ending because this is real life.
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on 24 March 2014
...is what this novel is all about.
-And what impressions! I don't think I have ever come across a novel as impressionistic as this. It somehow prefigures the gut wrenching force of Cormack McCarthy, another unforgettably atmospheric writer.
This is strictly an ode to life's downtrodden losers: the suckers to whom W.C. Fields would never give an even break.
Whilst in no way an easy read, it is as graphic as life itself in all it's hellish degradation, and pulls no punches in ramming home what abject failure is all about. A real downer, about the kind of people a lot of us never get to meet, who nevertheless become all too familiar through the extraordinarily mordant pen of a writer I have never previously read.
Mr Algren must have been quite a tortured soul to have devoted so much force of experience into describing what otherwise would constitute an amorphous, nondescript bottom layer of American society that nobody would give two hoots about. In his hands, however, Dove Linkhorn, the protagonist, and the human flotsam he manages to attract to his virtual non-existence, becomes an anti-hero that is utterly unforgettable.
Although he manages to make his way from some godforsaken one-horse town in Texas to New Orleans, the book is almost totally lacking a plot. It lives (or dies) on its fly-on-the wall description of the characters, places and seedy lives that occur within. Had a plot been added this would surely rank as a masterpiece.
As it is, I would best describe it as a masterpiece of descriptive writing, although somewhat less as a novel overall.
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on 27 June 2011
This was bought for a friend. It is one of my favorite books. This is life as a low life, transformed to poetry. PLease read it and consider this. The poor are kept poor to keep you rich. They commit crimes to stay alive. Honesty can only bring more poverty. Little has changed, little will change.
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on 13 February 2014
Nelson Algren - always no holds barred - any observation from life permissible however excruciating, painful, vacuous; often funny, always beautiful phrases, startling annotations on life from a clever man deep in thought.
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on 8 March 2002
It's not often that a novel washes over you so completely that you cease to care about what's going on, but Nelson Algren pulls off this difficult anti-feat. A picaresque tale of the 'adventures' of a young southern pauper on the road to maturity, it is told in a ponderous, plodding style that strives for prose-poetry but ends up as patronizing guff. Algren is at one remove from his characters, staring at them like a biologist eyeing microbes through a lens, with the fatal result that we, the readers, don't connect with them. To be honest, it was a relief to finish this book; if you want to see this genre properly served, check out Charles Bukowski, or John and Dan Fante.
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