.. Mr. Algren, boy, you are good" ("Review Quote": np).
After reading this novel, I am compelled to agree. This novel is at times strange, at times very dark, and always engaging and very interesting. People the world over all know Chicago by reputation, and yet the version of this famous city offered up by Nelson Algren is grittier and edgier than the versions offered up by tourist brochures or television sitcoms. The characters are also intriguing and engaging. There is an almost simultaneous sense of disgust and admiration as we experience how these characters aspire and strive in uncertain and distasteful circumstances. The atmosphere which he creates deepens rather than minimizes the reading pleasure. The novel's world is both plausible and foreign; more particularly, it is an atmosphere which we can imagine existing, but which also seems to be an atmosphere that we will never actually step into personally. There is a certain feeling of safety in this distance, which Nelson Algren provides through the medium of the novel. Finally, it is also important to note that Nelson Algren chooses and uses his words, both narrative and dialogue, meaningfully and succinctly. He does not bore the reader with tangential information. He does not deaden the plot with unnecessary details. Every word conveys meaning. The result is a novel which is extraordinarily difficult to put down, and even more difficult to forget once the final page is read. This is a book which under normal circumstances I would probably never have read. This book report will explain why I am so happy that I have now read the novel.
As an initial matter, this is the story of a Chicago drug addict. This character, Frankie the Machine Makjinek, works as a card dealer at illegal poker games. The golden arm reference is to his steady, card-dealing arm. Frankie has just returned to his old neighborhood in Chicago, from jail and a temporarily successful attempt at detoxification, and he works as a card dealer while he tries to turn his life around. He wants to beat his morphine addiction, and he also wants to stay out of trouble and out of jail.
The story revolves around his attempts to straighten out his life while simultaneously existing alongside other drug addicts, attempting to pacify a dominant wife, and striving to beat his own former addiction to morphine. In many ways, this is a similar type of story. A person has made a mistake, the mistake has had negative consequences, and the person wants to pursue a better and a more productive life. There are thousands and thousands of stories premised in the same fundamental fashion. What is different about The Man with the Golden Arm, however, is the way in which the story is presented. There is a tremendous depth in the characters. There is a very particularized depth in the setting. More significantly, Nelson Algren presents this quest by the main protagonist as an almost impossible quest. There is an almost mocking tone extended to notions that human beings are civilized or otherwise capable of suppressing deep-seated urges and instinctive desires. Nelson Algren seems almost a cynic and a realist at the same time. He feels sympathy rather than pity for his main protagonist. In this way, the reader is compelled, at times, to question whether Frankie the Machi