Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Colin Asher's "Never A Lovely so Real"

Colin Asher is an award-winning writer whose work has been featured in the Believer, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle. An instructor at CUNY, he was a 2015/2016 Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography.

Asher applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Never a Lovely So Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren, and reported the following:
Never A Lovely so Real is a literary biography of Nelson Algren, a once-famous mid-century American author. And because it is, I felt that I needed to both accurately present the facts of Algren’s life in my composition, and also capture his perspective, to suggest, in my own writing, something about the way Algren saw the world and wrote about it.

Some writers dwell in the realm of parable and care little for their characters’ inner lives—others prefer the reverse, and emphasize their protagonists’ psyches while rejecting the urge to moralize. Some are drawn to environment, or plot, or rely on stylistic flourishes to carry their books. But Algren had a unique sensibility. He emphasized relationships over individual struggles, and he was a generous writer, who even gave depth to his minor characters. In everything he wrote, no matter how challenging the subject matter was, there was always musicality to his prose, rhythm—and those were the elements of his style and perspective that I tried to replicate in my book.

Luckily, when I turned to page 99 of Never a Lovely so Real, I found a paragraph that attempts to achieve all of those goals. At this point in the book, Algren has just returned to Chicago after being released from a Texas jail. He had stolen a typewriter a month or so earlier so that he could complete his first novel, and been caught. After a brief trial, he hopped freight trains back home, and moved in with his parents. This was in 1934, during the Great Depression, and his family was struggling. They had just lost their tire shop, their only means of supporting themselves, and they were about to lose their home. His parents, Gerson and Goldie, had never gotten along well, and as their financial situation deteriorated their relationship did as well. On page 99, I describe their marriage during that period as follows:
Time had distilled their relationship to its purest form by then. She was the gloved fist, and he was the heavy bag – when she swung, he swayed. “Get out of my sight,” she hollered when she saw him. “You just get downstairs.” And Gerson went. There was a rocking chair near the furnace in the basement, and a bottle of Rock and Rye, and sometimes he spent entire days down there, rocking and drinking, rocking and drinking.
Visit Colin Asher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue