Nelson Algren is probably best known for THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, a series of novels about Chicago’s seedy side of the street, and for having a long-term love affair with feminist scholar and historian Simone de Beauvoir (while she was married to Sartre, no less!). But he was a first class short story writer (and if you don’t have THE NEON WILDERNESS, get it).
“Dark Came Early in that Country,” from THE LAST CAROUSEL, is a terrific tale of the shadow world of boxing: the fixes, the double crosses, the palookas, freaks and lifers beating out a living. There is nothing sweet about this science. It’s so crooked that it makes pro wrestling look legit. The details, the cadence, and the action make this more of a tale about a place than character, and yet the hero of the tale is engaging in and of himself.
It’s the kind of story I suspect would get slaughtered in a critique group because the mechanics of plot are not ABC/123. That could be what I love about it. Sometimes, it’s enough to have one fascinating thing happen after another, with a strong voice pushing the story along, leading to a dark end.
If you like Hemingway, Lucius Shepard, Norm Partridge, or tough guy fiction that doesn’t read like wish fulfillment power fantasies, read Algren. Read him, enjoy him, learn from him. He was first class.