Nelson Algren was born in Detroit but grew up on Chicago’s South Side, a working-class neighborhood of Polish immigrants. He is best known for his compassionate portrayal of drifters, petty criminals, drug addicts, and other marginalized characters struggling to stay alive. His most successful novel is The Man With the Golden Arm (1949), winner of the National Book Award, which chronicles, in a gritty lyrical style, the downward spiral of young Frankie Machine, a morphine-addicted World War II veteran, card dealer, and aspiring drummer.
The Man With the Golden Arm
Algren reads a passage about Frankie Machine’s wife, Sophie, confined to a wheelchair since a drunk-driving accident caused by Frankie. The narration implies that Sophie paralysis is psychological in origin, and is unconsciously used to keep Frankie with her. Algren planned the reading meticulously, arranging various sections from the novel to form a coherent whole. Frankie is in hiding, being sought by the police for murder: Sophie waits anxiously for his return, recalling their early love, and drifting in and out of fantasies that foreshadow the breakdown and mental institution that await her.