Thursday, January 16, 2014

Nelson Algren: The answer, plus what the ancients can teach us

Yesterday's post here at Detectives Beyond Borders asked What ever happened to Nelson Algren, and why? The good people who run the Nelson Algren Twitter account suggested I might find some answers here. The article's headline:
"Despite his literary brilliance and humanist resolve, Nelson Algren was the type of loser this country just can't stomach."
 I miss the medal stand in the How Many Books Do You Own? Olympics (fourth place, behind Ali Karim, Jon and Ruth Jordan, and the Library of Congress), but I still can't take three steps anywhere in my house without tripping over a pile of mid-listers. So I took two bags of books to a used bookstore today and traded them for credit and three books.

Two of the three have some connection to crime: James Ellroy's Crime Wave, and Sophocles' Oedipus plays. Everyone knows about Oedipus Rex's sublime plotting, but what grabbed me was Oedipus' declaration in the prologue that
"I would not have you speak through messengers
"And therefore I have come myself to hear you."
That has to be as good a job as any writer has ever done getting right to the heart of the action without, however, resorting to desperate action for the sake of action. It's a perfect balance among action, atmosphere, and suspense.  The ancients have much to teach us.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Blogger Gary Corby said...

I'm totally with you on the ancients having something useful to say.

I might qualify to join the How Many Books Do You Own competition. We have about 6,000 (I think).

January 16, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gary, I'd say your 6,000 makes you a favorite in the Oceania group stage.

The ancients are too damned enshrouded with prestige and mystery and, er, Olympian majesty. That opening speech in Oedipus the King is a brilliant piece of suspense-building that any reader could love. (What's the big deal that Oedipus should appear in person?) That Sophocles knew how to tell a story. The good translation probably help. It's by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald.

January 16, 2014  

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