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Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Man with the Golden Arm (1949) by Nelson Algren

Book Review
The Man with the Golden Arm (1949)
by Nelson Algren

  "Junkie Lit" came of age in the 50s and 60s, with Beat Era writers like Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsburg raising their protagonists from the gutter to the stars.  The Man with the Golden Arm was first, however.  Algren's portrayal of Frankie "Machine" Majcinek as a World War II veteran with an unfortunate addiction to morphine is the first novel featured in the 1001 Books collection to obsessively dwell on an assortment of small time criminals and bums who would later become so popular with the Beats and beyond.

  The Man with the Golden Arm contains elements of pulp fiction, but it is avowedly a literary effort that shys away from cheap exploitation of the material.  Algren is deeply sympathetic to his protagonist, even as he dives deeper and deeper into an abyss of nihilism (which ends in his suicide.)  By the time The Man with the Golden Arm was written, avant gardes in Europe and America had been flirting with "low life" for over a half century.  Writers like George Orwell even went so far to immerse themselves in a world of poverty, but only as visitors.  The Man with the Golden Arm is a full immersion in the underworld and the reader emerges shaken, fully conscious of what lies beneath.

 In 2015 we've been subjected to another half century plus of literary obsession with criminal sub culture, and that takes some of the punch out of this book, but it still holds some power.

1 comment:

Mandie said...

I was pretty excited to stumble upon this blog, as I'm always looking to broaden my experiences with literature, and since these aren't books I'm liable to see reviews for elsewhere without seeking them out, your reviews/summaries looked to be a great find. For the most part, I feel that I was right. HOWEVER... I'm afraid I won't be able to read anymore after this one, due to my fear of a book being spoiled by the exposure of key plot elements -- ones I would have enjoyed discovering on my own. If only you hadn't mentioned the suicide, I would have gladly picked up this book. But as it is now, I feel... Idk, almost like someone just read the last page to me? That probably sounds extreme, but really, it is a pretty big thing. For all I know, his suicide is merely a blip in the overall scheme of the book, but like I said, I would have preferred to find this out on my own, regardless of significance.

The only reason I'm even leaving this comment instead of just moving along is to hopefully help prevent you losing other potential blog subscribers/readers. If you could just delete the part about his suicide (and this comment, lol), and screen your other previous entries for similar spoilers, it would help a LOT.

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