Somebody in Boots was Algren’s big chance, but when he stepped into the ring he swung and he missed. It was released in March 1935, and a year later it had sold only 762 copies. Algren hadn’t found a straight job, and after his publishing failure it seemed he wouldn’t be able to make it as a writer. He had nowhere to go, and no idea what to do next, and so resigned himself to nothingness. In the apartment of a girlfriend whose name has been forgotten, Algren removed the gas line from the back of a stove, placed it in his mouth, and breathed methane. The girlfriend discovered Algren nearly but not quite dead, and handed him over to Larry Lipton and Richard Wright, who looked after him for months. Eventually they had him committed to a hospital, which discharged him to his parents’ apartment. He spent the remainder of his life denying his suicide attempt. Seven years passed between the publication of Algren’s first book and his second, and during those years he grew into himself and became the stubborn, hilarious, fiercely loyal, brilliant, pugnacious, and fickle person he would be until his death.
more from Colin Asher at The Believer here.