A Woman’s Point of View from a Tough-Guy Novelist

Nelson Algren, 1962 [Photo: Steve Deutch]

There was no chance to note Nelson Algren’s birthday two days ago. As Doug Ramsey has pointed out ArtsJournal was taken down by hacker bots. But now that we’re back, herewith a belated blogpost to celebrate a novelist who had a reputation as a tough guy but who wrote with deep sensitivity about women. Show me a passage equal to the one about Sophie, who is doing “tenement time,” which he recorded for a 1963 release on vinyl by Lynne and Harry Schwartz, beautifully produced I should add. It is part of their Calliope Author Readings (Great American Authors Reading From Their Works). The recordings have been newly re-issued in a two-volume CD set (available at Amazon or at Audio Editions) and also downloadable whole or as individual tracks. Here’s Algren’s track for download. The other recorded novelists are James Baldwin, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, William Styron, James Jones, and John Updike. The producers write:

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’s 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.

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