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Novels, 1944-1953: The Dangling Man; The Victim; The Adventures of Augie…

by Saul Bellow

Other authors: James Wood (Editor)

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298163,020 (3.65)None
Celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of "The Adventures of Augie March," and reflects the mid-twentieth-century's psychological turmoil from more inhibited times in a volume that also includes "The Victim" and "Dangling Man."



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One of my 2020 reading goals is to read more books from the first half of the twentieth century. That’s what lead me to Saul Bellow’s 1944 debut novel, Dangling Man.

The short novel’s narrator is Joseph, a twenty-seven-year-old Chicagoan who finds himself in some kind of legal-limbo with his World War II draft board. Joseph tells his story through a succession of diary entries from December 15, 1942 through April 9, 1943. He knows that he will inevitably be drafted at some point; the problem is that it seems to be taking forever to happen, and he has had to place his life on hold until it does. As the months go by, Joseph’s mental state grows more and more agitated, and he begins to verbally abuse his one-time friends so badly that by the end of the novel he seldom sees anyone but his wife and boarding house neighbors. And even his wife, Iva, is growing weary of Joseph’s presence.

“And so I am very much alone. I sit idle in my room, anticipating the minor crises of the day, the maid’s knock, the appearance of the postman, programs on the radio, and the sure, cyclical distress of certain thoughts.

I have thought of going to work, but I am unwilling to admit that I do not know how to use my freedom and have to embrace the flunkydom of a job because I have no resources – in a word, no character…There is nothing to do but wait, or dangle, and grow more and more dispirited. It is perfectly clear to me that I am deteriorating, storing bitterness and spite which eat like acids at my endowment of generosity and goodwill.”

By the time Joseph wrote the December 15, 1942 entry quoted above, he had already been “dangling” for seven months as he awaited the “reclassification” that would get him finally drafted into the military. Unbeknownst to Joseph, it would take another four months for his situation with the draft board to be resolved – and it would only happen after he forced the board’s hand.

Bottom Line: Dangling Man is an interesting look inside the head of a man unexpectedly given the time he needs to figure out one of life’s big questions - “How should a good man live; what ought he to do?” For Joseph, that doesn’t turn out to be an easy question to answer, and the longer he thinks about it, the more confused he gets. So what if personal freedom turns out not to be all that it’s cracked up to be? Dangling Man suffers a bit from the fact that the narrator himself is as close as it gets to having a fully developed character in the whole novel, and even he is only a poorly developed one. Supporting characters are mostly just walk-ons who come and go as needed. This is, perhaps, a built-in limitation of the length and format of the novel, but it can make for tedious reading at times. ( )
  SamSattler | Jul 8, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bellow, SaulAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wood, JamesEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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