Times Literary Supplement
The Man with the Golden Arm: 50th Anniversary Critical Editionby Nelson Algren
The literary critic Malcolm Cowley called The Man with the Golden Arm "Algren's defense of the
A novel of rare genius, The Man with the Golden Arm describes the dissolution of a card-dealing WWII veteran named Frankie Machine, caught in the act of slowly cutting his own heart into wafer-thin slices. For Frankie, a murder committed may be the least of his problems.
The literary critic Malcolm Cowley called The Man with the Golden Arm "Algren's defense of the individual," while Carl Sandburg wrote of its "strange midnight dignity." A literary tour de force, here is a novel unlike any other, one in which drug addiction, poverty, and human failure somehow suggest a defense of human dignity and a reason for hope.
Times Literary Supplement
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Meet the Author
One of the most neglected of modern American authors and also one of the best loved, NELSON ALGREN (1909–1981) believed that “literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by conscience in touch with humanity.” His own voluminous body of work stands up to that belief. Algren’s powerful voice rose from the urban wilderness of postwar Chicago, and it is to that city of hustlers, addicts and scamps that he returned again and again, eventually raising Chicago’s “lower depths” up onto a stage for the whole world to behold. Recipient of the first National Book Award for fiction and lauded by Hemingway as “one of the two best authors in America,” Algren remains among our most defiant and enduring novelists. His work includes five major novels, two short fiction collections, a book-length poem and several collections of reportage. A source of inspiration to artists as diverse as Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme, Studs Terkel and Lou Reed, Algren died on May 9, 1981, within days of his appointment as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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This book a crown gem in American Literature. It has long amazed me that so many extremely literate people I've met have never heard of one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Compassionate, but gritty, an indelible indictment and a poignant pardon, this tells the story of the Polish slums of Chicago through the experiences of a war veteran who was wounded and in the process, developed an addiction to morphine. But to limit it to the scope of its own protagonist is to severely shortchange a story that is somehow Dickensian in characterization and characters but Proustian in its mapping of the internal landscapes of the characters. NOTHING SHORT OF A MASTERPIECE. More people need to read this.
The contrast that makes The Man with the Golden Arm so remarkable is between humor and dark lyric. The characters make up an army of the wounded¿ wounded somehow by life and the directions that life has taken them¿be they alcoholics, gamblers, drug addicts or all of the above. They all, to some extent, share a world of shattered dreams. This is especially true of Frankie¿s wife, Sophie, who is confined to a wheelchair after an accident for which Frankie was responsible, although the way the story is told, we suspect, Sophie is in the chair because she has chosen to abandon hope. Nelson Algren creates a mantra of language to create the existential bleakness of this story. An equally effective device is the luminous crucifix on the wall of Frankie and Sophie¿s apartment that seems only to exist and wait pointlessly as these characters grow more and more certain that God has abandoned them. Along with the crucifix is a clock. The clock does not mark the passing of time as much as show how time has stopped. This novel is a nocturne. Darkness shapes it¿s every scene. Every moment is night and every season is winter. How else do we know that the crucifix glows if it were not ensconced in darkness? How does this novel fair as literature? A friend of mine once said that literature is about the day the letter doesn¿t arrive. This is to say, it is about the everyday lives of people irrespective of the remarkable. This is certainly true of this novel. And, although I have no way of really knowing this, I would venture to guess that The Man with the Golden Arm isn¿t emblematic of the Polish-American urban experience. Algren writes about a certain type of person, and that type exists outside of any ethnic pool, just as the Irish American experience is depicted in James T. Ferrell¿s Studs Lonigan books. Just as Algren¿s web of language shapes darkness and despair, there is also a mantra that signals hope in a scene involving the prison bull Captain Bednar that he received from the ranting of one of his charges, ¿We are all a members of each other.¿ In this scene Bednar carries a weight such as Pontius Pilate must have carried. At the end of the novel the question remains, why has Algren become just a footnote in American letters? I learned of him only recently on National Public Radio, and rushed out the next day to order the novel. Is it ultimately because of our culture? Because writers like Algren and Bukowski are relegated to the cheap seats so that our society can feast on success? Whatever the case may be, I only hope that if I¿m ever held at a police station and paraded in front of a Bednar, I¿ll be able to wise crack with the best of them.
This story is a wonderful book to read. When you see what Frankie goes through you have to stop and see what would life be like if you were in the same situation. This book is an awesome book. NElson Algren is truly a great writer. I reccomend that anyone read this book. You have to keep up with where you left off once you start reading this book. Again this is a great book to read.