Reader’s Corner: Algren’s Rules

walkonthewildsideThere was always plenty to be learned in the Chicago novels of the great Nelson Algren—particularly in a negative sense, as in what not to do. One of Algren’s more memorable passages comes from 1956’s A Walk on the Wild Side:

But blow wise to this, buddy, blow wise to this: Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own. Never let nobody talk you into shaking another man’s jolt. And never you cop another man’s plea. I’ve tried ‘em all and I know. They don’t work.

Life is hard by the yard, son. But you don’t have to do it by the yard. By the inch it’s a cinch. And money can’t buy everything. For example: poverty…

A Walk on the Wild Side isn’t Algren’s most memorable work—that honor probably goes to his scabrously funny novella/essay Chicago: City on the Make or the story cycle The Neon Wilderness—but it does contain dark, sharp wisdom.

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