While visiting the city of brotherly love I finished reading a novel about the city with the big shoulders. Of course I’m referring to Philadelphia and Chicago.
The novel was Never Come Morning and the writer was Nelson Algren.
Algren specialized in writing gritty tales of the denizens of Chigago’s underclass. For Algren, these individuals struggling to survive are all too human.
He wrote about the dregs of society, the convicts and the prostitutes as referred to in the Walt Whitman poem, Leaves of Grass: “I feel that I am all of them – I belong to those convicts and prostitutes myself, and henceforth, I will not deny them, for how can I deny myself.”
Never Come Morning is the story about a street gang of Polish American immigrant kids always scheming always getting into trouble with the law, fighting, robbing, raping, killing, whoring, pimping, and dealing with crooked cops.
There is a whole section where one of the characters is picked up on suspicion of shooting a drunk in an alley off Chicago Avenue. He ends up doing time in the workhouse or “workie” as it is referred to in the novel.
This would be “Lefty” Bruno Bicek, who has ambitions of becoming heavy weight champion not of Illinois but from Illinois. When he gets out of the workhouse he takes up pimping at a whorehouse accross the street from the Broken Knuckle Bar run by a Polish barber, another small time crook always looking for a fast buck. Leftie did nothing to help his girl friend, Steffi, when she was gangraped by the boys and this weighed heavily on his conscience throughout the rest of the novel. She ended up working for the barber as one of the girls in the whorehouse while he was in the workie.
Lefty’s big ambition is to win a title fight and get enough money to take Steffi away from all this misery. He gets his big chance in the last chapter of the book, “Toward Evening Lands.” Here, Algren describes a fight scene between Lefty and a black fighter called Honeyboy Tucker, the sons of a Polish baker and a mulatto pig sticker. Lefty is referred to as a white hope. This chapter contains one of the best descriptions of a boxing match I have ever read. The fight goes on for eight rounds. Two minutes and 48 seconds into the eighth, Lefty is declared the winner by a knockout.
“The bleachers howled like wind through an empty shack.”
But, the victory was short-lived however, as police captain Tenczara enters the dressing room and whispers into Lefty’s ear, “Got you for the Greek, Left Hander, two witnesses.”
Lefty was led out through the middle aisles in manacles.
“Knew I’d never get to be twenty-one anyhow,” he said.
He had won the fight but lost the battle.