Hey! Welcome to Short Story Club. Glad you could make it. Come on in and grab a seat. Jami was just about to tell us what she thought of this month's story— and there should be a shrimp cocktail floating around here somewhere. Jami?
“How the Devil Came Down Division Street” is a nice snapshot of Algren’s world view, a view that permeated the many novels and short stories that followed, a world view that can be summed up nicely by a quote from the story: “The devil lives in a double-shot.”
This quote sets the tone for a tale that, at its conclusion, is an introspective look into the mind of a man not quite thirty years old, a man who has yet to overcome what his thirteen year old self saw, what he didn’t see, and what he feared because of the space between the two perspectives. Roman is the son of a renowned drunk, a street performer, a sad excuse of an accordion player who doesn’t live with his family so much as he has a place to sleep when he returns home in the mornings after a night of roaming the streets for pennies.
Roman’s father hears a constant knocking at the door of their home, at least that is what he tells his family but no one believes him. Rather, Roman and his twin siblings think their father is crazy. They share a bed at night when he is philandering or at worse, begging and in the daytime while their father sleeps it off, the children go to school and pretend he is different. Their mother doesn’t encourage nor does she dissuade her children from feeling this way and by allowing the speculation, she is implicit in the reactions her children have to their father, a mixture of embarrassment, shame, and ultimately, misunderstanding.
One day Roman’s father returns without his accordion. Things change. He doesn’t wander the streets at night any longer. He becomes a husband to their mother again, takes a job as a janitor but, he takes a bed too. The knocking is heard by Roman. He believes his father, doesn’t think he is crazy any longer but his mother does the unthinkable and trades the sanity of her son for the newfound respectability of her husband. So Roman then, at age 17 is pushed out, finds himself with nowhere to spend his nights, no place to call his own and so he takes to the bars himself. As Algren puts it, “he came to think of the dawn, when the taverns closed and he must go home as the bitterest hour of the day.”
The bitterest hour of the day. That’s where Nelson Algren takes the reader and with straightforward language and crisp descriptions, Roman is any one of us or all of us, giving up our accordions for a place to sleep, a place to call our own.
—Jami McFatter Balkom is an attorney, practicing in Panama City, Florida who writes short story reviews for her blog, www.wherewordslive.blogspot.com. She is currently writing fiction, working on a novel of literary fiction and a series of short stories centered around her hometown in northwest Florida.
So what did the rest of you think of the story?