Friday, April 25, 2014

FFB: Nelson Algren's Own Book of Lonesome Monsters

Did you ever buy an anthology just for one story?  I wouldn't be surprised if some of you had done that very thing.  Almost exactly five years ago, Todd Mason wrote about this book, and one story title stuck in my head: "Day of the Alligator."  So naturally I got the book; it just took me a while to get around to reading it.  That particular story is one that Algren mentions in his preface as being not among the most skilfully written in the book but one of the two he found of most interest.  The alligator doesn't really figure into the story much.  It's just a catalyst for the action, which takes place in a prison.  The book was published in 1962, and if I'd read the story then, I might have had trouble figuring out everything that was going on.  Why?  Because I was a naive kid, and the author, James Blake, had to approach his material obliquely.  There were still some things you couldn't be frank about, and a story about a man who becomes another's punk in prison was one of those things.  Todd notes that the book was also published under another title, 13 Masterpieces of Black Humor.  There's nothing at all funny about "Day of the Alligator."  Trust me.

In fact, it's kind of stretching it to find the humor in several of these pieces.  Joseph Heller's story of a telegram delivery boy who's been summoned to a fine apartment is another one I didn't find a lot of humor in.  There's not a lot of humor in the boy's situation, another sexual one, at least for me.  It's a well-done story, but a reader now will catch onto what's happening long before the boy does.  Maybe a reader in 1962 would have, too.  Probably not me, though, and I might even have been shocked.  Not now.  The story reminded me a bit of Salinger, and I could see Holden Caulfield stumbling into a similar situation.

I'd read two of these stories before.  One is George P. Elliott's "Among the Dangs," which I'd read in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  The other is Thomas Pynchon's "Entropy," which I read elsewhere, but I can't recall where.  It was originally published in the Kenyon Review, but I'm sure that's not where I read it.  Maybe I'm just imagining that I'd read it before.

If you're looking for a slice of '50s nostalgia (the '50s didn't end in 1060) or just some well-written stories, give this book a look.  And of course click on the link above to read Todd's comments on it.  I lifted the table of contents below from his blog.

7 · Preface · Nelson Algren · pr 
11 · A World Full of Great Cities · Joseph Heller · ss Great Tales of City Dwellers, ed. Alex Austin, Lion Library Editions, 1955 
24 · Talk to Me, Talk to Me · Joan Kerckhoff · ss, 1962 
34 · Show Biz Connections · Bruce Jay Friedman · ss, 1962 
44 · Hundred Dollar Eyes · Bernard Farbar · ss, 1962 
54 · The Man Who Knew What Ethopia Should Do About Her Water Table · H. E. F. Donohue · ss The Carleton Miscellany, 1961 
68 · Among the Dangs · George P. Elliott · nv Esquire Jun ’58 
95 · Peacetime · Brock Brower · ss, 1961 
111 · The Shores of Schizophrenia · Hughes Rudd · ss, 1961 
120 · Day of the Alligator · James Blake · ss The Paris Review #17 ’57 
136 · Address of Gooley MacDowell to the Hasbeens Club of Chicago · Saul Bellow · ss The Hudson Review, 1951 
143 · The Closing of This Door Must Be Oh, So Gentle · Chandler Brossard · ss The Dial, 1962 
157 · Entropy · Thomas Pynchon · ss The Kenyon Review Spr ’60 

173 · The House of the Hundred Grassfires · Nelson Algren · ss, 1956 


pattinase (abbott) said...

All the time.

George said...

I remember the Old Days when anthologies like this showed up on a regular basis on those spinner racks in my local stores. No way today.

Todd Mason said...

"Entropy" seems to have been the go-to short story for reprinting from Pynchon for some years (you know how that log-rolling goes), and in adventurous sf anthos at times as well as others...unlike, say, the segments of THE CRYING and V. that also might pop up in BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES and the like...flattered to no end, here, Bill.

Todd Mason said...

And remember Avram Davidson's (or someone's) metaphor for black/gallows humor...the laugh with the bubble of blood in it...size of that bubble changing from example to example

Unknown said...

That's a good definition, and maybe it could apply to those stories. I'm still not so sure.