Thursday, April 16, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: NELSON ALGREN'S OWN BOOK OF LONESOME MONSTERS (also published as 13 MASTERPIECES OF BLACK HUMOR)




From the Contento Index:

Nelson Algren’s Own Book of Lonesome Monsters ed. Nelson Algren (Lancer 73-409, 1962, 60¢, 192pp, pb)

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

So, you want to talk noir...if there's a concept in "darkness" that can be as argued about and misconstrued as noir, it's probably "black humor." Grotesquerie, biting satire, modest proposals. This book is a handsome sample of what was available in 1962, assembled by the writer best remembered for The Man with the Golden Arm, but who should be remembered for a much wider range of work, including the story that he immodestly caps this anthology with. As with Joe David Bellamy's SuperFiction from a decade later or Dwight Macdonald's fat Parodies from a couple of years before, this has been a widely-distributed anthology touching on the fantastic and the grimly realistic, surfiction and some stuff that at least verges on metafiction. Saul Bellow, not usually thought of as a comic writer (though his wit was just one of his many facets) delivers what might be the slightest and lightest piece here; Hughes Rudd, in the 1970s the acerbic anchor of the CBS Morning News (which was actually more or less a news program, imagine) gives him a run for that laurel (any joking aside, CBS News had several fictioneers on staff in those years, including Reid Collins on the radio side). George Elliott's "Among the Dangs" is straight-up science fiction enough to have been reprinted in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction before its appearance here, and Pynchon's "Entropy" might've been squeezed in without too much forcing the issue. The Heller is from a fine, pioneering Lion Books all-originals paperback anthology, and Joan Kerchoff probably shouldn't be the only woman to be represented in the book (how many Dororthy Parkers did he pass by? No Mary McCarthy?), but it's a solid, grimly funny read (and not only grimly funny) under either of the titles Lancer Books, that ultimately doomed publisher, chose to reissue it (Bernard Geis Associates did the hardcover, which I've never seen). Somebody else should; it's been gone too long.

Please Patti Abbott's blog for more "Forgotten" books for this Friday.

15 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

As always, a pleasure reading your words.

ARCHAVIST said...

Great review - that cover illustration looks awesome too

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, folks...it's a pleasure to mention such a book.

K. A. Laity said...

That looks like a book I have to have! Wow -- what a great selection of tales.

Juri said...

Ah, Todd, you probably know that the use of "noir" (as a positive statement) was first added into "humour". André Breton edited an anthology of "humour noir" (or some such; I'm not sure what it was in French) in 1940, and it was his Surrealist friends who edited Serié Noire and declared the American crime films were films noirs. The Wikipedia article says Breton's book was the first instance to mix "humour" and "black".

(Yes, there had been some usage of "film noir" already in the thirties, but I think it was a negative comment, and a politically biased, aimed at Leftist film-makers, to show their films were too bleak and too dark.)

Todd Mason said...

Yes, it was more often referred to as "gallows humor" in the States, at least, before the adaptation of "black humor" as a label...and while I knew of the Surreealist connection to the SERIE NOIRE, I had either forgotten or not come across reference to Breton's anthology Anthologie de l’humour noir (1940)...thanks for that! I suspect that Algren's book was one of the popularlizing sources for the use of the term in the US.

Juri said...

I don't really know what Breton's anthology contains, but it would be really interesting to see.

There's also Bruce Jay Friedman's BLACK HUMOUR, but it's probably later than Algren's 1962.

Todd Mason said...

Les auteurs de l'édition définitive de 1966 (of the Breton ANTHOLOGIE...), as per the French WIKIPEDIA article:

Jonathan Swift
D.-A.-F.de Sade
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Charles Fourier
Thomas de Quincey
Pierre-François Lacenaire
Christian Dietrich Grabbe
Petrus Borel
Edgar Allan Poe
Xavier Forneret
Charles Baudelaire
Lewis Carroll
Villiers de l'Isle-Adam
Charles Cros
Friedrich Nietzsche
Isidore Ducasse (Comte de Lautréamont)
Joris-Karl Huysmans
Tristan Corbière
Germain Nouveau
Arthur Rimbaud
Alphonse Allais
Jean-Pierre Brisset
O. Henry
André Gide
John Millington Synge
Alfred Jarry
Raymond Roussel
Francis Picabia
Guillaume Apollinaire
Pablo Picasso
Arthur Cravan
Franz Kafka
Jakob van Hoddis
Marcel Duchamp
Hans Arp
Alberto Savinio
Jacques Vaché
Benjamin Péret
Jacques Rigaut
Jacques Prévert
Salvador Dalí
Jean Ferry
Leonora Carrington
Gisèle Prassinos
Jean-Pierre Duprey

...while the Friedman anthology, which I had heard of but haven't read, was a 1965 Bantam offer, thus three years further along than Algren's...though perhaps better-distributed:

Bill Contento has indexed BH:

Black Humor ed. Bruce Jay Friedman (Bantam S3005, LCC# 65-22485, Aug ’65, 75¢, 174pp, pb)
vii · Foreword · Bruce Jay Friedman · fw
1 · In Which Esther Gets a Nose Job · Thomas Pynchon · ss
17 · Black Angels · Bruce Jay Friedman · ss Esquire Dec ’64
23 · Milo [from Catch-22] · Joseph Heller · ex, 1961
41 · from The Ginger Man · J. P. Donleavy · ex
52 · Scenes from the Life of a Double Monster · Vladimir Nabokov · ss The Reporter Mar 20 ’58
60 · from Powdered Eggs · Charles Simmons · ex
67 · Miss Destiny: The Fabulous Wedding · John Rechy · ss
95 · The Sandbox · Edward Albee · ss
108 · from The Sot-Weed Factor · John Barth · ex
127 · Twirling at Ole Miss · Terry Southern · ss
139 · Don’t Call Me by My Right Name · James Purdy · ss
146 · Pay Day · Conrad Knickerbocker · ss
161 · from Journey to the End of the Night · Louis-Ferdinand Celine · ex

Bill Contento also did SUPERFICTION:

Superfiction, or the American Story Transformed ed. Joe David Bellamy (Vintage V-523, Sep ’75, $4.95, 293pp, tp)
3 · Introduction · Joe David Bellamy · in
19 · Notes · Misc. · ms
· Fantasy•Fabulation•Irrealism
23 · Unready to Wear · Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. · ss Galaxy Apr ’53
40 · The Elevator · Robert Coover · ss
54 · Quake · Rudolph Wurlitzer · ss
76 · Chiaroscuro: a Treatment of Light and Shade · Ursule Molinaro · ss TriQuarterly Win ’74
· Neo-Gothic
91 · By the River · Joyce Carol Oates · ss December, 1968
113 · The Universal Fears · John Hawkes · ss
129 · Manikin · Leonard Michaels · ss Massachusetts Review Win ’68
137 · In Which Esther Gets a Nose Job · Thomas Pynchon · ss
· Myth•Parable
157 · Queen Louisa · John Gardner · ss The King’s Indian, 1972
173 · Order of Insects · William H. Gass · ss
182 · One’s Ship · Barton Midwood · ss
187 · Saying Good-Bye to the President · Robley Wilson, Jr. · ss
· Metafiction•Technique as Subject
197 · Life-Story · John Barth · ss
213 · Sentence · Donald Barthelme · ss, 1970
221 · The Moon in Its Flight · Gilbert Sorrentino · ss
234 · What’s Your Story · Ronald Sukenick · ss
· Parody & Put-On
259 · The Loop Garoo Kid · Ishmael Reed · ss
274 · A Lot of Cowboys · Judith Rascoe · ss
282 · At the National Festival · John Batki · ss
289 · Under the Microscope · John Updike · ss

Macdonald's PARODIES doesn't seem to be detailed online, except perhaps in WorldCat.

Juri said...

Thanks, very interesting. Lots of familiar names to those who have read Breton's Surrealist manifestos.

SUPERFICTION seems to be mostly about postmodernism.

Todd Mason said...

Well, the surfiction/metafiction/fantasticated edge of pomo, perhaps. Hence its appeal to William Contento, I suspect. Certainly the reason I first picked it up all those years ago (it certainly wasn't its reasonable price, but I first encountered it in a library).

Paul Brazill said...

I used to have this about 15 years ago and loved it.ooh, i've gone all nostalgic!

Paul Brazill said...

oh, and a fantastic post btw.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Paul...at this point, though, which of the books under discussion did you have a decade and a half ago, the Algren?

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Brimgs back many forn memories Todd - have a wonderfully beat-up copy of my folks' shelves back home in Italy. Cheers.

Todd Mason said...

I wonder if the UK edition had a completely different cover, or did you have a copy of one of the Lancer editions in Italy?