Sometimes the author of a dazzling first novel is never again to scale such heights. There are others for whom their premier work was either a run-in for better things or whose writing continued to mature over the years. When Dangling Man was published it must have been clear that here was a great writer already, and one who went on to even finer achievements (The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, Humboldt's Gift, etc.). It is an extraordinarily accomplished work and Saul Bellow was indeed to become one of North America's greatest writers.
A young man has quit his job in anticipation of being drafted quickly into the War but bureaucratic inertia or incompetence leaves him waiting for his papers alone in a room in Chicago in mid-winter where, financially supported by his wife, he writes his journals. His idleness forces him to reflect on life and, as he slides into highly critical self-analysis, he becomes increasingly frustrated and irascible with his friends and family. Eventually, the prospect of going to War begins to appeal to him, whereas before it had appalled him. The ambience is mid-century European existentialist (Camus, Buzatti) as he grapples with problems of loneliness, alienation and anxiety, but it is very much set in an American milieu and there is a real evocation of wartime Chicago. This book is beautifully written and manages to be both unsettling and enjoyable. In fact, it is hard to imagine finer writing.