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.
-Saul Bellow, Dangling Man
Published in 1944, Dangling Man was Saul Bellow's first novel, some 32 years before he'd win the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is a short, fundamentally existential novel written in the form of diary entries over the course of almost a year. The diary's author and our not completely sympathetic protagonist Joseph has been drafted into the army but, presumably due to bureaucratic slowness, has not had his number called. In this place of "dangling," Joseph finds it nonsensical to pursue work, since he may be inducted any day. He wakes every day, reads two newspapers, observes the tedium of the people in his apartment building, renders Chicago in illuminating detail.
But in this in-betweenness, it is as though all of Joseph's relationships are made meaningless. Without ever saying it, without routine or regularity, Joseph stares down the barrel of his enlistment, and realizes that, for him, there is no future - at least, not one worth nurturing in Chicago. He berates his friends, cheats on his wife, humiliates himself in front of his niece.
My aunt brought me Dangling Man in September. She could not remember where it had come from. I thought, in the midst of this pandemic, some parallels might exist between Joseph's dangling and, frankly, all of ours. In many ways, I am very happy to say that I found his account quite foreign, that much of what my circle has expressed and heard during the pandemic was starkly different than Joseph's, that the dangling has made us value our relationships more in the face of uncertainty.