1961 - CHILDREN OF THE STREETS

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Jan
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1961 - CHILDREN OF THE STREETS

Postby Jan » Thu Jan 31, 2008 4:32 pm

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CHILDREN OF THE STREETS

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"So I ceased writing quick fiction for a buck, and I wrote what I'd really wanted to write, stories worthy of the talent I knew was in me somewhere." -- from new introduction

The book was released in 1961 under the publisher’s title THE JUVIES. It was never reprinted until 2004. Two of the stories were however included in GENTLEMAN JUNKIE.

This book is in print. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Children-of-the-Streets/Harlan-Ellison/e/9780727861054/?itm=1

Langerhans info page: http://www.islets.net/collections/children.html (Michael Zuzel)

You can add your comments about any of the stories or object to what I or others may say.
Last edited by Jan on Fri Sep 19, 2008 12:45 pm, edited 8 times in total.

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Postby Jan » Thu Jan 31, 2008 4:41 pm

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As would almost be expected, on the outside of the 2004 book there is no indication that this book is a few decades old. Probably sold more copies that way. I object to that sort of thing, but I presume the book might not have been re-issued at all without that sort of compromise. That probably also explains why the cover art looks much too contemporary.

Memory of a Muted Trumpet” (1960) tells the story of drop-outs living in a New York apartment, not far from Greenwich Village. They are young bohemians having parties, providing each other with company, looking for sex, bragging about drugs. They’re always looking for new faces, new acquaintances, people to join them. Their minds are in various states of consciousness. One of the characters, a young Jewish writer, sees a girl at one of the parties and makes her his own.

Harlan presents another facet of the life he experienced in New York apart from the gangs. The lifestyle portrayed in this story looks comparably harmless on the surface, but it still exacts its price from those who participate, and one gets the impression that some of the men and women (or girls) are on their way into deep trouble. In the course of the story, a crime is committed that passes unnoticed, though it leaves internal scars. Harlan writes without judgment, more like a reporter, until he finally brings the crime back into focus near the end in a chilling sort of way that’s easy to overlook. What’s missing is what usually makes a good story, like interesting characters and dramatic conflicts that help get the message across. It almost feels like Harlan wrote this for display in a museum of American culture. It may be a bit too accurate for its own good.

At the same time, it's probably less far removed from what other writers were doing at the time than most of what Harlan had been writing. Perhaps, if Harlan had continued this for a while, people would probably have noticed and discovered him, and the readers he'd have had would probably not be too enthusiastic about what we consider Harlan's best work. :| :| :oops:

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Postby Jan » Fri May 16, 2008 10:44 am

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Bruce Davidson photographed a Brooklyn gang in 1959

"Ten Weeks in Hell" (originally written around 1956) is the true account of a battle between two Brooklyn kid gangs, one of which Harlan had joined for a while to write about juvenile crime. In for a penny, in for a pound: Harlan took part in the preparations and the actual fight, though naturally in a mostly half-hearted way.

I'm not completely sure about the chronology but this was certainly one of the first, if not the first piece he wrote after leaving the gang. It seems to have been the precursor to all the four books that were wholly or partially based on his gang experiences: WEB OF THE CITY, MEMOS FROM PURGATORY, THE DEADLY STREETS, and CHILDREN OF THE STREETS. Harlan's participant observation enabled him to write in detail and with great insight about kid gangs. For the Harlan fan, "Ten Weeks" also illuminates a lot about 22-year old Harlan. Somewhat surprisingly, it is better written than what I've seen of Harlan's related fiction, being more heavily influenced by Hemingway and social participant reporters.

While juvenile delinquency and kid gangs are far from high on my personal list of interests - which I believe to be the case with most people, including Harlan's readers - one cannot escape the fascination of Harlan reporting about real experiences: real places, real crises, real fears. On top of that, Harlan was able to get to the bottom of the whole problem reasonably well. As a result, I didn't mind the closing sermon which is concise and intelligent. Many of his points apply to the present as much as the past, as we have seen few policy changes. In fact, while I don't know much about gangs today, little of what I do know seems to contradict anything Harlan found in the mid-50's. Things today may look very different, but the basis of it all certainly remains what it was.

While Harlan was clearly no scientist, "Ten Weeks" certainly has validity as a sociological text. Considered as a memoir, it also makes for fascinating literature. :| :| :| :oops:

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Postby Jan » Fri Sep 19, 2008 12:19 pm

Mothered by fear. Fathered by the terror of nonconformity and the fate that waited for those who did not conform.

"No Way Out" (1957) concerns the decision of the Puerto Rican boy Rusty to leave his gang at the advice of a teacher. However, he was the leader and the gang is unwilling to accept his departure.

This story is an attempt to write an exciting story that illuminates an aspect of Brooklyn gang life at the same time. Harlan tells us that it's not easy to leave a gang once you're in, which is the reason why (I gather) attempts by adults to save kids like Rusty had often failed. He left the gang and was pulled back in despite his resistance which was based on the promise of a better future for himself.

Harlan wrote this in wordy omniscient mode, with attention to detail, though all we're really interested in is Rusty's point of view, which there could have been a little more of. The main point is given away by the title and Harlan's introduction. The two later confrontations between Rusty and the new gang leader are exciting in the same way "Ten Weeks in Hell" was exciting. The ending is good but not entirely satisfactory because there is room for doubting the "inevitable" main thesis. If Rusty really wants to get out, he's left in a fairly good position at the end to accomplish this. It is also evident that it was harder for a leader to get out than it was for an average gang member. :| :|

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Postby Jan » Thu Sep 25, 2008 10:10 am

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"No Game for Children" (1959) is about an escalating conflict between the well-liked scholar Herbert Mestman and a 17-year old juvie living next door.

Both this story and "Memory of a Distant Trumpet" were also reprinted in GENTLEMAN JUNKIE later the same year, which I guess is the more literary and less thematically specific of the two. "No Game for Children" is told in alternating points of view with both characters coming off as stereotypes of what they represent. In his conflict with the kid Mestman seems to be in the bigger danger, as he has to deal with someone who stops at nothing. When the threat becomes tangible with Mestman's discovery of his dead cat, there is a choice to make: He has to either accept the challenge or call the police. Since Harlan keeps Mestman's deciscions "off screen", we're never quite sure what his thinking is.

The portrayal of Frenchie, who wishes to join a gang but is not accepted, is a lot more vivid and interesting, stereotypical as his actions and ambitions may be. If he wasn't so brutal, there'd be something comical about him. While reading about him I understood why Harlan liked Thomas F. Wilson's Biff Tannen in the BACK TO THE FUTURE movies. Biff was a comedy version of Frenchie. Made so much later, the movies seem to have gotten it right.

Frenchie finally takes part in a chickie run to prove his worth and be accepted by the members of the local gang. This is the kind of car race that had been reproduced on the screen for REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955). I'm not sure if Harlan had used the device before but unfortunately it's just a device here that he employs to wrap up the story - he doesn't dwell on it. He leaves the reader with a feeling of having seen the characters and situations many times before, and the whole story seems profoundly silly by the end. (Like most stories printed in Rogue, I would presume.) Mestman's solution also happens to be slightly implausible. Harlan's writing was still in development - there's an awkward flashback near the beginning that's not worth the trouble. Still, the story is entertaining enough and has some small amount of historical value.

Regarding recurring themes, one is reminded both of "The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge" (SHATTERDAY) - taking justice into one's own hands and getting something out of it - and "The Cheese Stands Alone" (STALKING THE NIGHTMARE) - if you've got brains and use them, no one can really harm you. :| :|

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