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Dangling Man (Penguin Modern Classics)

4.0 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0141188775
ISBN-10: 0141188774
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Editorial Reviews

Review

''In this imaginative journal, set against fresh and vivid scenes in Chicago, the author has outlined what must seem to many others an uncannily accurate delineation of themselves.'' --New York Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Saul Bellow's dazzling career as a novelist has been marked with numerous literary prizes, including the 1976 Nobel Prize, and the Gold Medal for the Novel. His other books include The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, More Die of Heartbreak, Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories, Mr Sammler's Planet, Seize The Day and The Victim. Saul Bellow died in 2005.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Modern Classics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (September 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141188774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188775
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,456,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This early novella actually contains some of Bellow's best writing. Set in 1942-43, it is the diary of a young man waiting to be drafted (Bellow himself was deferred so long that eventually he joined the Merchant Marine). Although the self-centered story of Joseph waiting for his draft call becomes annoying at times--it brings to mind the criticism made about James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," namely that it focuses too intently on the author gazing into a mirror in unblinking self-regard--Bellow manages to insert some wonderful lyric passages into the diary form of the story.

For someone of my age (71) it's especially nostalgic to read the contemporary references to the World War II era: "both doors of the phonograph were open;" the songs "Mr. Five-by-five" and "Chattanooga Choo-Choo;" rationing of leather goods, sugar, coffee, gasoline, and butter; hoarding; the conga; baking days and washing days; the navy transport plane called the Catalina; a blacked out street lamp bent over a curb on a rainy night; war mothers knitting mufflers; "Your Hit Parade;" doors shut with pneumatic arms; pants in the new style saving cloth, without cuffs; Bataan.

Bellow cites other telling details that resonated with me personally: "I was forever buying books...As long as they surrounded me they stood as guarantors of an extended life..." "I fell back into bed and spent an hour or so...watching the dark beams from the slats of the blind wheeling on the upper wall."

Bellow's protagonist is a "reflective man" who suffers from a feeling of strangeness, who seeks to know who he is. Like his literary successor, Augie March, he is fenced around, less than a whole man.
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Format: Paperback
I made a terrible mistake in my first reading of Dangling Man. Hailed as one of the great works to come out of World War II America, I figured that it was great in the conventional way that war novels are great. My expectations were horribly violated by the book's form (it is a journal) and by the subject matter (a man in the doldrums because of bureaucratic and self-imposed inaction while waiting to be drafted). I was not expecting an existential mediation on the human condition conducted on that most bland of World War II fronts--the American home front.

Because of this violation of expectations, I was initially put off by the book. This was ultimately extremely wrong- headed. The genius of this work lies in how it uses the vast historical background of the war and unemployment to show Joseph, the fictional journal keeper, descend further and further into his own personal short-comings, narcissism, and irascibility. A mixture of pessimism and comical farce, the reader of the work is privy to the inner workings of a personality that is watching its degradation.

We find at the journal's opening that Joseph has been awaiting conscription for several months. Initially believing that he was to be mobilized within several weeks of his initial notice of mobilization, Joseph had left his regular work-a-day life behind him in order to concentrate on putting all his affairs in order. Government bureaucracy interceded to make this much more complicated than it otherwise should have been. Because of his Canadian nationality and because of certain completely reasonable regulations, Joseph found himself in a position that would have been familiar to many of his generation only a few years before during the Depression; out of work and with a lot of time on his hands.
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Format: Paperback
Joseph is the title character of Saul Bellow's "Dangling Man", a late twenties married man who puts his life on hold as he waits to get drafted to serve in the army during WWII. Nothing actually happens during the book- Joseph does not get drafted until the last pages, and the raging war is only referenced in terms of its effect on those back home- but the existential somersaults Joseph executes to battle his ennui and sense of purposelessness drive the novel forward. Without a job or any real responsibilities other than those suggested by his wife, Joseph manages to find fault with nearly everyone and everything he encounters, his lack of purpose eventually leading him to feel isolated and alone. This affects both his marriage and his friendships and it is only in the philosophers Joseph is reading does he find any solace.
"Dangling Man", Bellow's first novel, is an excellent example of an English speaking writer incorporating the influence of European existentialism into his writing. While later Bellow novels would find the author doing so in less direct ways, this debut work nonetheless establishes the author as a voice with which to be reckoned.
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Format: Paperback
The novel is very good when the narrator is talking to himself - his long introspective diary entries are compelling. However there are to many banal conversations between the narrator and his dull friends in the middle third. Doubtless Bellow is making a point in detailing these dialogues, but after a bit it gets boring and one longs for Joseph to get back to his favourite past times: talking to himself, asking the big questions (why am I here?, who is it that I'm going to war for?, etc) and having breakfast. Joseph and his aquaintances drink coffee and quote Shakespeare, Goethe and Spinoza a lot. He looks out over the slums of Chicago, smells the decay, observes the desperate people living their mean lives: is he going to go to war to fight for these wretches?; or is he going because he needs to get away from them? This is a novel with a small plot and a lot of interesting ideas. Bellow shows (convincingly) how Joseph's perspectives on himself, his life and the world change in the final 4 months before he joins up.
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