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Dangling Man [Paperback]

Saul Bellow , J M Coetzee
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Sep 2007
Expecting to be inducted into the army, Joseph has given up his job and carefully prepared for his departure to the battlefront. When a series of mix-ups delays his induction, he finds himself facing a year of idleness. Dangling Man is his journal, a wonderful account of his restless wanderings through Chicago's streets, his musings on the past, his psychological reaction to his inactivity while war rages around him, and his uneasy insights into the nature of freedom and choice.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (27 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141188774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188775
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 495,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

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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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent writing, but not a great novel 17 Jun 2010
This is more a meditation on life than a novel. The plot, what there is of it, involves Joseph, the narrator, doing very little while waiting to be called up by the army in WW2. Written in the form of a diary over the winter of 1942-43, Joseph wiles away the days in his apartment or on the streets of Chicago, talking to friends and thinking about his life. In many ways an existentialist novel, Bellow makes some interesting points, but I also found some of it quite dull.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the man who wanted to go to war 7 Oct 2008
Format:Mass Market Paperback
in the anglo-american dominated and policed world, few or perhaps no one seems to take notice of the history of communism in amerika. Yes, there used to be a communist party in amerika, founded in 1919. and yes of course, those bloodthirsty communist criminals, they believed in this criminal beliefs, like social justice, and a better world etc, so 2 red scares, the maccarthy commission and a lot of good work of our friends secret service, manage to break the party in pieces and eventually nearly outlaw it.
now this is what we call democracy! everybody is free to think and say what they want, complete uncensored freedom of speech apart from the things that are .. forbidden.. like communism in the usa..
sure, the process on paper is perfect: if tomorrow a vast majority of people woke up communist, next thing you know, they will move lenin and mao's mummies over to capitol hill; but this doesn't take into account how the will of people can be manipulated, how scare tactics can work on the minds of the majority of people, how the secret service and the military complex can be used to change the course of history, and so on.
anyway, dangling man is not about this stuff.. it's just that the main character, joseph, is a self declared ex member of the communist party, some time before mccharthy came of age.
dangling man is more about the agony of a generation, the depression generation of americans, who was going to take a blood bath in europe and thus thrust us into this magnificent times of nowadays.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some of his best writing 8 Oct 2005
By Constant Weeder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market 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. He holds lengthy internal debates with his Other whom he calls "But on the Other Hand, Tu As Raison Aussi."

Yet he can appreciate the majesty of nature: "The clouds were sheared back from a mass of stars chattering in the hemispheric blackness--the universe, this windy midnight, out on its eternal business."

The author's magnificent ability with words stops the reader cold: "For every need there is an entrepreneur, by a marvelous providence. You can find a man to bury your dog, rub your back, teach you Swahili, read your horoscope, murder your competitor."

There is a great deal of autobiographical reference in this work: Bellow actually grew up on St. Dominique Street in Montreal, mentioned in the text; in Chicago he lived near Humboldt Park, also referred to. Though the story is short on plot--a drunken party, a fight, a long period of waiting and privation, a stressed marriage--his writing can reach inside the reader's gut, as in his description of the pleasure he took in shining shoes as a child (in my case it was polishing coins): "the stove shone on the davenport and on the oilcloth and on my forehead, drawing the skin pleasantly. I did not clean shoes because I was praised for it, but because of the work and the sensations of the room, closed off from the wet and the fog of the street, with its locked shutters and the faint green of the metal pipes along the copings of its houses." In fact, his descriptions of the slum inhabited by Joseph have a strongly Dickensian ring: "chimneys pointed heavenward in openmouthed exhaustion...houses, their doors and windows open, drawing in the freshness, were like old drunkards of consumptives taking a cure....[T[he smeary blind eyes of windows...in hope of an impossible rejuvenation."

"Dangling Man" is an underappreciated, under read marvel.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A trial, but a rather silly one. 22 Aug 2006
By Daniel A. Stone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market 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.

A somewhat bookish and highly intellectual person, Joseph and his infinitely patient wife Iva, both welcomed the free time as a chance for study and as an extended vacation. As time wears on though, and it really wears on Joseph, he develops not only an intelligent critical viewer of friends, family, the war, and society, but also an unbearable wretch as he goes further and further into himself. Every disgusting personality trait that Joseph possess becomes exacerbated and almost beyond his control. To many readers of this work in 1944, this would have resonated with their personal experiences with political and economic redundancy, or with what they saw occur in their families and communities during the Depression. For Joseph though, this would have to much more alienating than it would have been for him just a few years before. During the Depression, it was plain to see that if you were unemployed, you were part of a vast multitude of the like. With full employment during the war, the opposite would have been true. Joseph really is alienated from the mainstream of America.

Although Joseph's irrational side is what we are first exposed to, his insights into what America is and is becoming because of the war and the prosperity it is bringing in its wake are, from the perspective of the early twenty-first century, nearly prophetic. The very hard learned lesson of the depression, that what is good for the wealthy is not necessarily good for the country and ultimately not even the wealthy, is fading fast from even the memory of small business owners like Joseph's tailor acquaintance, Mr. Fanzel. After long period of economic marginality, Fanzel is up to his ears in orders. Abandoning not only his poverty, he has also abandoned much of his human feeling since his time has become valuable beyond any previous comparisons. His outlook on life is best summed up in Joseph's opening reflection in the journal entry he recounts a recent conversation with him: "Look out for yourself, and the world will be best served." (109) His thinking are a blandly frightening caricature of everything that went wrong with America before the Depression--this includes a positive reference to a newspaper piece by the disgraced President Hoover that argued for more war profiteering. Joseph sees in Fanzel's behavior a great amount of rationalized selfishness that would allow Fanzel, and any others that conformed to his way of thinking, to accept human degradation as moral, if not a necessity. This is a sentiment Joseph can not abide, and its growth does not bode well for the post-war history of America.

What is truly terrifying to Joseph though is the thought of being a bystander. Not only of being bystander during the war, but of being a bystander period. He remembers as traumatic experiences that he had as a child when his mother died and nightmares where he was forced to take a powerless position in the wake of a massacre. These are just some of the extreme cases of where he feels himself impotent. He feels and sees the entire world going about him, without him and without need--though there is plenty of regard--for him. Joseph is not at home with feeling doubtful or is any good in the morally ambiguous circumstances the war has given birth to. As a supporter of the American war effort Joseph is ambivalent enough and honest enough to say that "between their imperialism and ours, if a full choice were possible, I would take ours. Alternatives, and particularly desirable alternatives, grow on imaginary trees." (84) Joseph's need to end his status as a bystander will eventually overtake some of his ambivalence about the war, but I would be giving away a great deal if I explained how. Joseph unfortunately gives in to a need for regimentation that the rest of the country is allowing itself to be subjected to as necessary to win the war. It is sad to witness, especially since this comes at the books end.

Joseph's recounting is comic-opera in many instances. The lack activity that he tries to accustom himself to leads into extreme tension and hyper-sensitivity. He constantly feels his dignity insulted by the actions of those around him and as far as he is concerned no can do right. Joseph had some lousy personality traits prior to his period of dangling--he was a know-it-all Communist, an adulterer, and something of a brawler--but in the eleven months that he is waiting to be called to duty, he becomes an out and out prick. He is unwilling to accept either his friends, families, or wife's personal foibles while he expects them to all tolerate his meanness and irritability. He is slowly but surely turning into a hypocritical and petty man, incapable of compassion for anyone but himself. He describes his brother's wife after giving him a very mild reproach for spanking their daughter as finding her "farther on the hellward side than ever." (78) He denounces his wife and all women in general, as naturally given to frivolity and not teachable simply because Iva has not bent totally to his will. (98) At one point early on in the book he even makes a huge seen in a restaurant, embarrassing a friend when a former comrade from the Communist Party that he abandoned does not acknowledge. Joseph is bent on picking fights wherever he can find them, and to recount all of them would be redundant. The book makes obvious that if Joseph is not descending into madness, he is at least descending into silliness and absurdity.

One sees in this book all the aspects of intellect and personal struggle that will characterize Bellow's novels and short stories during the more than half-century after this work's publication. In Dangling Man we are given the very ordinary situation of a man living in a burdensome situation trying to use his intellect as guide to get closer to a proper way of living. The war as background is extraordinary, but the situation is anything but that.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Right to be Answered!" - Fine Novel of Alienation 22 Aug 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Bellow's first novel is a finely written, tightly constructed little gem of American alienation. The main character has received his call-up papers for WW II, and is now waiting in a hotel room - dangling - as the weeks go by and he is still not called up. He begins to think about himself and those around him in a new light - being out of circulation, in enforced idleness, causing him to think about himself and others really for the first time. His detachment grows and he becomes stranger and stranger - or is it the others, his family, friends, work mates, passers by, who are getting stranger. One day in a cafeteria he goes really bonkers upon seeing an old political acquaintence from his youthful days in a radical party, who is now ignoring him. This leads to an explosive, almost surreal scene in which the dangling man is screaming about his "right to be answered" - which of course is a salesman's motto, the cold-caller's motto, while other people's supreme right is, of course, the right to personal privacy. This interesting question, that goes to the heart of what we are as Americans, is only one of the many interesting ideas thrown up by the young Bellow in this short book. If you like *Seize the Day,* you'll probably like this one, too. Bellow's shorter novels (I include *The Victim* in here, too) are among the best examples of American alienation ever written.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High-Quality Existentialist Novella 5 Mar 2006
By Christopher B. Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Some consider this novella Bellow's worst piece. At the other extreme, it has been compared to Dostoevsky's "Notes From the Underground". I am in the latter camp. "Dangling Man" might not strike chords quite as high as Dostoevsky's "Notes", but it's at least in the same ballpark. The April 8 and April 9 entries (the book is written in journal form), on the last two pages of the book, bring everything home, and put this book among the top ten of existentialist fiction.

For those who may have read a full-length novel or two of Bellow's, and found it/them overly heavy and tortured, try his early novellas, especially "Dangling Man".
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some wonderful writing, but it sags in the middle 25 July 1999
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market 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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