An insightful introduction into the works of the voice of America's dispossessed
Understanding Nelson Algren traces the career of a writer best known for his novels The Man with the Golden Arm and A Walk on the Wild Side. From Algren's first short stories through his final fiction, the posthumously published The Devil's Stocking, Brooke Horvath surveys the literary contributions of a writer known as the voice of America's dispossessed.
Horvath offers an introduction to the life and work of the Chicagoan who wrote about the underclass in the Windy City and beyond, bringing to the fore their humanity and aspirations. He proposes that while it is appropriate to view Algren's work through the lenses of literary naturalism, disenchanted social critique, and (in later his works) postmodernism, Algren's ideological concerns should not eclipse his considerable stylistic achievements, including his lyricism and humor.
Examining Algren's eleven major works in the contexts of the writer's life and changing literary tastes, Horvath sets Algren's evolution as a writer against the backdrop of America's shifting social, political, and economic landscape. Throughout his analysis, Horvath considers the questions that plagued Algren and that reappear in his work: Why do so many Americans fail? How do they view their own failure? How do the "successful" view those at the bottom of the economic order? And to what extent do the middle and upper classes experience failure or require salvific intervention?
Brooke Horvath is a professor of English at Kent State University and coeditor of Line Drives: 100 Contemporary Baseball Poems. His recent work includes coedited volumes on William Goyen, Henry James, and Thomas Pynchon.