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A Walk on the Wild Side: A Novel (original 1956; edition 1998)

by Nelson Algren, Russell Banks (Foreword)

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415725,597 (3.87)16
Member:deebee1
Title:A Walk on the Wild Side: A Novel
Authors:Nelson Algren
Other authors:Russell Banks (Foreword)
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1998), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Read in 2012, Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:US 20th century

Work details

A Walk on the Wild Side: A Novel by Nelson Algren (1956)

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  1. 00
    Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (WSB7)
    WSB7: Contrasting life of the down and out at the same period of time in New Orleans.
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» See also 16 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Nelson Algren's own words describe this book best.

The book asks why lost people sometimes develop into greater human beings than those who have never been lost in their whole lives. Why men who have suffered at the hands of other men are the natural believers in humanity, while those whose part has been simply to acquire, to take all and give nothing, are the most contemptuous of mankind."

A Walk on the Wild Side is a story about the lost and lonely men and women of Perdido Street in 1930s New Orleans. It is a stark and often poignant portrayal of the lives of society's down and out, losers and has-beens, lived out in the streets, cheap hotels, dingy bars, and brothels of this city. Dove Linkhorn, 16-years old, son of an itinerant preacher, is recently arrived, with big dreams of easy money and a good life. Dove is willing to work hard, and he is willing to try his hand at anything. He knew that his youth and his muscles are his strength, but his illiteracy was a liability. So he does what he could to learn to read. Among pimps, whores, con-men and suchlike, he got his education, and it didn't end in reading. Dove gets in and out of scrapes, and gets to understand many things. Life was tough, people were hard-bitten, disillusioned, and there was plenty to be angry about. Little acts of compassion, of sympathy, of loyalty, however, shine through their shared misery, and once in a while, a courageous soul emerges who reminds them of their pride of themselves, and unspoken dreams.

Algren does not idealize poverty or glorify these miserable characters, none does extraordinary things, neither does anybody overcome their miserable existence, but they are more real and the more human for it. The story is a series of small dramas, and Algren sometimes tends toward the melodramatic. But Algren's writing is wonderful and has a melancholic ring to it, he uses lyrics of songs to good effect in setting the mood. In his words, we almost hear the sound of music and songs which happen to be playing or being sung, almost always heard through the open door as Dove walks by. Where he came from, it was always a church door. Here in New Orleans, it would be a jukebox.

A good read, and a vivid reminder that the misery portrayed in this novel is a situation that is again being felt in many parts of the US and Europe. Algren was not describing a world very different from what we are faced with these days -- high unemployment, migration, aggressive door-to-door marketing, more and more homeless, the amount of sales posters we see on walls or notices pushed under our doors -- they also characterized Dove's New Orleans then. It is sobering to see the similarities. ( )
6 vote deebee1 | Jan 14, 2013 |
Algren's gritty compassion is as exciting -- or taedious, according to one's lights -- as Algren's own life- history. Even as a young man I found that a little of his fiction went a long way, and I don't honestly feel much more positive now. A classic case of suum cuique. ( )
  HarryMacDonald | Dec 13, 2012 |
A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
By Nelson Algren
Review by Benn Bell

I just finished reading Nelson Algren’s, “A Walk on the Wild Side,” and to quote Ernest Hemingway, “Mr. Algren, boy, you are good.” It’s been years since I’ve stuck to a novel the way I did this one. After I got past about page eighty, I couldn’t put it down. Algren details the lives of hookers, hustlers and hangers on walking the wild streets of New Orleans in 1930’s.
There is more colorful language and colorful characters put down on a page that can be found in the hue of a rainbow. The book asks the question why lost people sometimes develop into greater human beings than those who have never been lost, and why men who have suffered at the hands of other men are some of the most natural believers in humanity while those who have only sought to acquire, to take and take, and never give anything back are the most contemptuous of mankind.
The book, about economic hard time in the 1930’s bears an eerie resemblance to the hard times of 2011. In the mixed up time of the 1930’s, “ …the number of jobless rose to 8 million, two hundred thousand steelworkers took a 15% wage cut, the D.A.R. demanded that unemployed aliens be deported, a crisis in unemployment relief was imminent, and Huey Long said it was time to redistribute the wealth. The New York City Chamber of Commerce said that Prohibition was failing, the Secretary of Labor pointed out that business was resisting further decline. Self reliance for the penniless and government aid to those who already had more than they could use, was the plan. It was between prostitution and prohibition that the ancient color line was finally breached. Negro bellboys had gained a virtual monopoly on the delivery of illicit alcohol and had found white male guest either wanted a woman with the bottle or a bottle with the woman.”
The book is full of charming advice such as the following: “Blow wise to this, friend, never play cards with a man named Doc, never eat at a place called Mom’s, never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own. Life is hard by the yard. But you don’t to do it by the yard. By the inch, it’s a cinch.”
Nelsen Algren wrote this novel in the 1950’s, long after it was walked. He says he found his way to the streets on the other side of the Southern Pacific Station where the jukes were playing, “Walking the Wild Side of Life.” He lived pretty much on that side most of his life. As I read this book, I couldn’t help but be reminded that this was book was written by the man whose heart was broken by his French lover, Simone de Beauvoir. He is feature prominently in her novel, “The Mandarins.” ( )
2 vote bennbell | Jun 29, 2011 |
Dove Linkhorn is an uneducated sixteen year old who is attempting to get by as the novel begins. He is doing odd jobs on a town on the Mexican border. He asks a Mexican woman named Terasina to read the Sunday funnies and help him learn to read. He does mechanical work for truckers who stop at the restaurant and is so green that after doing a hard job for one of the truckers, when the trucker asks him what he ows, Dove gives such a low price that Terasina corrects him and tells tha driver not to forget a tip.

The novel describes the hard life of the working people in the Texas and New Orleans area in the depression.

Dove travels from one encounter to another, stealing rides on the railroads, attempting to be recruited by the Marines, to getting a non union job at the docks and more.
We never get into his thoughts and don't connect the way we do Steinbeck's characters in "The Grapes of Wrath."

We follow Dove's attempts and see him progress to what it takes to earn a living in the tough times. ( )
  mikedraper | Feb 28, 2010 |
Very good, not great. Endlessly ripped off: Midnight Cowboy, most prominently.
  WrathofAchilles | Jan 23, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nelson Algrenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Campos, VicenteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374525323, Paperback)

With its depictions of the downtrodden prostitutes, bootleggers, and hustlers of Perdido Street in the old French Quarter of 1930s New Orleans, A Walk in the Wild Side has found a place in the imaginations of all generations since it first appeared. As Algren admitted, the book "wasn't written until long after it had been walked . . . I found my way to the streets on the other side of the Southern Pacific station, where the big jukes were singing something called 'Walking the Wild Side of Life.' I've stayed pretty much on that side of the curb ever since."

Perhaps the author's own words describe this classic work best: "The book asks why lost people sometimes develop into greater human beings than those who have never been lost in their whole lives. Why men who have suffered at the hands of other men are the natural believers in humanity, while those whose part has been simply to acquire, to take all and give nothing, are the most contemptuous of mankind."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:36 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The story of a naive country boy who busts out of Hicksville, Texas, in pursuit of a better life in New Orleans.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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