53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 1999
I don't know how I missed Algren, but I had never heard of him before I picked this book up. I only bought it because of the title. The darker days of my own youth have made me skeptical of books dealing with alcoholism and addiction. They never seem to get it right. This one nails it, seemingly without effort. Unlike other books of the genre, this one does not romanticize the ugliness it deals with. Frankie Machine's life is a tour through poverty, loveless marriages, addictions and hopelessness. It is not exaggerated. This is what it's really like. Algren's realism and intelligence make this one of the finest novels I've ever read. The details are so vivid and accurate that one has to wonder how many demons Algren shares with his characters. The Man With The Golden Arm is simply fiction mirroring life. It presents a side of life that many of its readers will never experience first-hand. Of that, you will be grateful. A combination of poor choices, bad luck, and lack of opportunity has overwhelmed the characters so completely that most of them don't know that they are already dead. I am a writer...this is one of those books that will always keep me humble. For most, their greatest achievement of words will never come close to to Algren's harrowing tome. Do not read this while distracted. It requires your full attention. It's that rich, that brilliant. This is not just a book about morphine, booze & the ghetto....it is a book of suffering, pain, betrayal, neglect & spite. Mr. Algren has been graceful enough to supply the compassion that most of characters seem to lack.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2004
I think this is one of the best novels ever written. People who say Algren romanticizes the poor have clearly not read the book properly, all he does is say they are human just as you. But describing them as low-lifes like some reviewers did, just shows that Algren's message did not come across. This book is about love for humanity. And that is ALL humanity, not just the part that's nicely educated and has a good job and doesn't rob you at night. One reviewer said that Frankie Machine should of just quit taking drugs and sought himself a nice job and everything would of turned out fine. How? Would Frankie be loved then, would his crippled wife be able to walk, would there be no loneliness and desperation. would it stop raining? Would it stop the El from going round and round? I'm sick and tired of people romanticizin' the rich.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2000
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The dimensional misery in which the novel's characters find themselves is poetically narrated. Since the novel was published in the late 40's, it belongs to an era where readers were patient enough to relish lengthy but poignant description. It's an alluring read that can prove rewarding to all those who ponder its painful subtleties. The characters' hopelessness may seem unbearable at times, but ironically, it is rendered in such beautiful prose that it easily illicits compassion and understanding from the reader. This alone makes it quite addictive. Frankie Machine and his cohorts (who never seem like cartoonish dregs, but actual people), embody what many would rather ignore: the reality of those who meet with constant disillusionment. The reader doesn't have to be from the "underbelly" of America to empathize with the book's main figures. In fact, Algren, through his melodic sentences of haunting sincerity, might even corrode the comfort of those who believe too strongly in the American Dream. Darkness and destitution have never exuded such truth and humanity.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2005
I heard the title The Man with the Golden Arm long before I ever read the book or saw the movie. It's a beautiful, evocative title, but it also makes you think of something grotesque: a man with a shiny prosthetic. When I got older, and knew the story centered on a junkie, the connotation became even more disturbing: an arm jaundiced by the hypo. I was never much into addiction stories and Algren's book (purchased as a shiny new softcover back in the early 80s, when I was spending the greater part of my college loan money on the creation of a private library) sat on my shelf for more than 20 years.
It turns out that the book is quite a good read. Algren locates the source of dealer Frankie Machine's addiction in his WW2 service-he was wounded and got hooked on the morphine that eased the pain of his injury. The novel also makes clear, though, that in spite of his friends' admiration and awe of his Purple Heart, Frankie was no hero. A grunt's grunt, he remained three years a private.
While the novel tells the story of Frankie's several attempts to kick the stuff, what we get out of it is the tale of a loser in a community of losers, people the American dream has left behind: small-time swindlers, dwellers in fleabag tenements, drunks, and sweet girls who can't get a break Among the sad detritus of this universe, located around Chicago's West Division Street, Frankie Machine shines like a star, with his big talk and his talent (the "golden arm" refers to his sure skill dealing cards, which he hopes to transfer to playing the drums in a big band).
Still, his life spirals downward. And although the drugs are central, you can't help feeling that if it weren't morphine that did Frankie in, it would have been something else. At bottom, he doesn't believe he's worth saving; one of the achievements of the novel is that you end up feeling they're all worth saving, not just Frankie, but also his grimier fellows. Algren draws his characters with such vividness that he takes you beyond pity and amusement to pure empathy with their humanity.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 1999
I can't believe there are only 3 reviews about this book. White urban poverty and despair has never been portrayed better. This is great book written in a muscular style. A lotof junk gets 5 stars in these Amazon reviews, but this book truly deserves it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2000
There are two monkeys on Frankie-Machine-Majcinek's back: A morphine addiction acquired in World War Two; and the aftermath of a car accident from which his wife Sophie ( Zosh ) is wheelchair bound. Even so, Frankie is the king of card dealers, a machine in his consistency, and dreams of becoming a big-band drummer like Gene Kruppa, or Dave Tuff. `It's all in the wrist 'n I got the touch', he tells his sidekick Solly- Sparrow-Saltskin, who idolises Frankie till the bitter end.
This is a story of destructive dependence: Frankie is looking for someone other than Zosh or Sparrow; something other than morphine to depend on. He almost finds it from his association, with, bar-girl, Molly Novotny, but has it snatched away by Sparrow's coerced betrayal.
This is a very powerful book, which stands comparison to anything written today. Fans of Iain Banks, Gerald Kersh, or William Gibson should enjoy it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2000
I read this book in 1980 and it still stays in my mind as a great piece of writing. I can't review a lot of the books I read in the past year because I've already forgotten their vapid styles and one-dimensional characters. Algren's style is compelling, exciting and muscular. Frankie Machine is a character whose suffering will engage you. As I said in an anonymous review of this book, white urban poverty and despair has never been portrayed better in a post-war novel. I highly recommend it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 1999
I ask people if they've read a certain book, and often they'll ask "does it count if I saw the movie?" I tell them it never counts; in the case of the Man With The Golden Arm, you should have to read the book twice to make up for it.
I believe it was Hemingway who said of Algren, "don't read him if you can't take a punch." This is a powerful book, definitely not for everyone. If you like it, though, give Don Carpenter a try as well (another tragically underappreciated writer),
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 1998
The film is better known yet far inferior to the book. This is a genuinely heart breaking, yet unsentimental, tale of social and personal dereliction and decay. A timeless evocation of the inner city, its victims and survivors.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2002
The Man with the Golden Arm is a beautifully complex tale that explores the experiences of the poor and powerless in mid-century Chicago. Frankie Machine returns to his old neighborhood after a stint in prison, having kicked a heroin habit and dreaming of becoming a drummer in a nightclub band. But all the old opportunities and constraints that worked on him before -- pressing need for cash, his skill as a card dealer, guilt over his wife's disability, temptations of drugs and petty crime -- kick in again, and he is inexorably pulled back into old habits and behaviors he had hoped to resist. Some call this a 'dark' tale, but it isn't really: yes, Frankie and friends are stuck in precarious, marginalized circumstances without real power to change, yet their lives unfold in ways that entertain contradictions that people of all circumstances face, between hope and despair, struggle and defeat, trust and betrayal, compulsion and choice. Algren is a uniquely gifted writer; he takes you inside characters' heads to see their thoughts and dreams (often off-kilter), and their humanity feels real and immediate. This is the edition of the book to buy -- it has wonderful essays about Algren and his work.