Book Review: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze - #5 In My Modern Library Classics Challenge

“American expression has one basic defect. It lacks freedom. It doesn’t move easily. This first book was intended to introduce a little freedom into whatever future American expression might seek in the short story form.” William Saroyan from the Preface to The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.

The Book Review

Reading this set of short stories by William Saroyan for the first time was an immense pleasure. Written with humor and full of emotion, there are twenty six stories in this, Saroyan’s first book. 

In the Preface the author says that some of the stories were “practice pieces”, and though the style may vary a bit from story to story they are all quintessential Saroyan. He is known for his “free style” of writing. He is much more concerned with conveying an idea, a tone, or an emotion, and much less with the form a story takes. Some of the stories in this book do try to tell a “conventional” tale with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but the best of them are vignettes or conversational pieces. All of them convey rich emotion, and most succeed in conveying a deeper idea than the “daily-life” story written on the page.

Most of the stories are centered on young men, about Saroyan’s age, or a bit younger. They live on the West Coast, in and around Fresno (and up to San Francisco), the scene of much of Saroyan’s work. Many of these young men, like Saroyan himself, are struggling to establish themselves as writers.
I liked the stories that featured young struggling writers the best. In these stories, like Seventy Thousand Assyrians and Myself Upon the Earth, Saroyan mixes storytelling with explanations (put into the mouths of his writer characters) of what writing means to him, and what he wants to achieve with it. In that way they are really essays, but wrapped into a story that itself demonstrates what the essay is trying to convey.
In the first story noted above, for instance, Saroyan’s character says:
“I am out here in the far West, in San Francisco, in a small room on Carl Street, writing a letter to common people, telling them in simple language things they already know.” 

And later in the same story:

“If I have one desire at all, it is to show the brotherhood of man. This is a big statement and sounds a little precious. Generally a man is ashamed to make such a statement. He is afraid sophisticated people will laugh at him. But I don’t mind. I’m asking sophisticated people to laugh. That is what sophistication is for.”

You get a real sense of who Saroyan was in these stories.  

I read Saroyan’s The Human Comedy as a young teen, and it struck a deep chord in me. For years I claimed it as my favorite book. But I tried to read it again in my thirties and I was surprised that it just didn’t hit me in the same way. Perhaps I had become too much like those “sophisticated people”. 

From my own experience then, I think that you, as a reader, need to be in a certain receptive state of mind to really appreciate Saroyan. I am happy to find that I am once again in a Saroyan state of mind. The stories here are ones I could return to again and again. 

I’m not sure how many people still read Saroyan, but he is well worth your time. He writes with a style all his own, perhaps somewhere between Twain and Hemingway. I’ve resisted the temptation until now of putting star ratings on the classic books I’ve been reading in this challenge, but this was definitely a Five Star ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ read for me. 

Classics Challenge

This is the fifth book in my 2022 Modern Library Classics Challenge. I’m challenging myself to read at least one of my Modern Library classics each month this year. It’s part of my overall goal to read 100 books. 

I own over 40 Modern Library editions that I collected in my first years out of college. At the time I was buying them, I admired them more as “art” than as books. I just liked the idea of pocket sized hardcovers, which is interesting since at the time most of the books I was buying to read were trade-sized paperbacks. Treated as art on my shelf, I haven’t ever read my Modern Library editions. So, it’s about time to do so now that I’m retired.

Book 1: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Book 3: The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells
Book 4: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

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Title: The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze
Author: William Saroyan
Publish Date: October 17,1997*
ISBN-13: 9780811213653
Publisher’s List Price: $17.95 (Paperback as of 05/2022)

My Modern Library edition appears to have been printed somewhere between 1941 and 1947. This estimate is based on the research on
Modern Library is now an imprint of Penguin Random House (PRH). Random House doesn’t list an edition of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze on their website. (As of April 2020, PRH is a subsidiary of the privately held German conglomerate Bertelsmann.)

*The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze was originally published in 1934, by Random House.