GENERAL & LITERARY FICTION. 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 wandering 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.
Dangling Man is very short, to the point that it can be read in one long sitting. It is an uneven novel, and the characters are not nearly as lively as Bellow's would come to be, but it's still Bellow, and it's still great.
On the other hand, you'd be perfectly justified in saying: "This is the maudlin and pathetic ravings of a man who believes himself to be better than everyone else. We all have those thoughts, but he seems to be unaware that we all have those thoughts; he also seems to be unaware that he's a shitbag."
The narrator, Joseph, is a Canadian, married to an American citizen, and living in Chicago. Because of his citizenship, his effort to join the U.S. Army is stalled. He'll be accepted, he's told, but but there'll be a delay. They'll contact him soon. In anticipation of his induction, he quits his job. He and his wife economize to live on her earnings, give up their flat and move into a rooming house. He sits at home. Waits. Gets into squabbles with his wife, his parents and brother, his in-laws, with longtime friends, with neighbors. He rejects every effort people make to ease him through this limbo. Fists fly. He's asked to leave the rooming house, his wife is ready to separate. What's to like about the guy?
At first, it seemed to be about alienation. He's an alien, and that status initially prompts rejection by the army. People endeavor to commiserate, and they offer suggestions and even financial assistance, which he chooses to view as insults. His reactions to people mystifies them and, pushed a little more, angers them. More alienation. But it's really about his indecision, his reluctance to commit himself one way or another. Contrarian.
But it's a short book.