The Neon Wilderness is as a collection of the short stories Algren wrote in the beginning of his career. It was published in 1947, almost 60 years ago, but is still a real, bleak and oddly funny portrayal of the downtrodden and beat.
This edition also features an afterword by Studs Terkel and an Interview with Nelson Algren.
This is the first work I've ever read of Algren's and when I read the first story I wasn't really impressed. I was sort of hooked by Algren so economic style, but it also sort of felt dry to me. I asked myself, do I like it? I do! Because what happened then it's that every single character gets at you. There's something so human, so sympathetic in every character that you cannot help but care. Algren can make you cry, and he can make you laugh, and sometimes he can do both things nearly at the same time. And always with very little words, but words that go straight to the heart. These are all stories of plain people, living plain lives. There's no hero here, even if sometimes they do struggle against all odds to get what they want. These are people like me and you, living in very difficult time (many of the stories are set during the Great Depression), many of them immigrants (with a wide majority of Polish). People trying to make a sense of their own lives, sometime succeeding, sometime not. It's this so sharable feeling of humanity that grows into the reader, so much that in the end, you care for every single character. Brilliant.