Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wishlist Wednesday: The Man With The Golden Arm - Nelson Algren

"I feel gritty, oh so gritty..."

How long has this been on my wishlist?
Surprisingly, only since last Saturday night. It all started when Mr. Bybee wanted to find a copy of Shane. We finally located it as part of a 2-for-1 package...the other movie being The Man With The Golden Arm. After watching and enjoying Shane on Friday night, I lobbied for watching The Man With The Golden Arm the following evening.
Mr. Bybee was pretty sure there weren't any cowboys in this feature, but I pressed on, arguing that he'd liked Frank Sinatra in Von Ryan's Express, and pointing out that this movie came out the same year he did, 1955. Finally, Mr. Bybee capitulated and pressed "play".
The Man With The Golden Arm wasn't the best movie I've ever seen -- it's a little stagy -- but the cast was good. Sinatra as drug addict Frankie Machine didn't disgrace himself, Eleanor Parker stole the show as his neurotic wife, and Darrin McGavin in an early role was solid as Louie the drug dealer. I was captivated by the jaded and hopeless atmosphere of the seamy side of post- WWII Chicago. An inveterate credits reader, I noticed that the movie was based on a novel. Hmm...
Oops, I did it again: I've chosen yet another title that's not on the current bestseller list. Where am I going to look for this book?
I guess I'm putting the word out here, if anyone should spot it at a library sale or a secondhand book store and feels flush enough to pay postage to South Korea. (If you do, I'll swap you something to show my gratitude.) Meanwhile, I'm headed to Seoul on the weekend for the book swap at the Wolfhound, so I'll check What The Book? I must convince Charlotte to go with me; although she's not a bibliomaniac, she has a definite genius for spotting literary treasures. I'm going to try not to go to Amazon and press One-Click, but it'll be difficult because what I really want is the 50th anniversary edition, published in 1999. This copy contains an essay by Nelson Algren about the writing of the novel and there's also scholarly criticism by some lit jockeys. (UPDATE: I found the edition I wanted on Bookmooch, and the person offering it is going to send that one and also The Bad Seed. I'm pretty happy.).
Yeah, I watched the movie based on the book, but I've been watching a lot of movies based on books lately. Why did this one scream "Wishlist!" so loudly?
I'm a sucker for 20th century American literature, especially if it was published before 1950. I am also strangely attracted to dark, depressing stuff in which all or most of the characters' lives are in the crapper to begin with and everything turns out badly. (Reading stuff like Jan Karon's Mitford novels drives me nuts.) Doing a little research, I read that Algren's 1949 novel is unrelentingly bleak and much grittier and darker than the movie. No surprise; I'd already sniffed out the stench of an attempt at a happy Hollywood ending. What capped the deal for me was the discovery that The Man With The Golden Arm was the first National Book Award winner in 1950.
I've always had a tendency to be a little dreary-eyed when it comes to my entertainment. When I was 8 or 9 years old, there was a Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton song called Jeannie's Afraid Of The Dark in which a little girl is afraid of the dark and she begs her folks not to bury her if she dies. Sure enough, the next verse is a grim spoken recitation by Porter who tells the listener that Jeannie died ("I think we always knew that we'd never see Jeannie grown") and the grieving parents put "an eternal flame" on her grave. I absolutely loved this song, and wanted my mother and father to play the record over and over. I renamed one of my dolls Jeannie and burned out the AAA batteries in my little pen light. Finally, my parents sent me to my room for being "morbid". Good thing that this was in the days before music videos.
Who in the blogging community do I think will also be intrigued by this choice for Wishlist Wednesday?
Practically no one. It's not exactly Jane Austen. But if some bloggers have read it, and whether they loved it or hated it, I wish they'd leave a comment.


Tara said... has copies of the edition you are looking for for 18.48 (I think). And shipping would be 2.97. I was hoping I could surprise you and tell you they had lots of used copies but no luck.

Bybee said...

Thanks for looking.

Isabella K said...

I've been meaning to read this book for about 18 years now, since I saw the movie, which I loved (so intense! and the music!). I've had it on my shelf almost that long, part of an Algren omnibus. You've just nudged it up higher in the list of books I promise to get to some day.