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Among the Literati

In the eyes of the law William Saroyan is an American citizen because he was born in California in 1908, but he descends from a long line of Armenian ancestors and he seems to have retained the best known characteristic of that race—the ability to trade and sell merchandise. His compatriots are very skillful in disposing of rugs and laces. Saroyan is equally proficient in selling his literary wares to publishers and magazine. Only last week his first collection of short stories. “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” was issued by Messrs. Cerfs’ and Klupfer’s Random House and few “first” attempts were ever launched with more fanfare.

A GOOD MERCHANT

When Mr. Saroyan set out to sell himself to the literati only a few years ago his method was infallible. He simply kept the postman busy delivering short stories to Story magazine and other publications. Whit Burnett and his wife, Martha Foley, who get out that magazine, had faith in the young man and encouraged him. He really didn’t need it, as he has great confidence in his ability. In fact before he started to sell his stories he wrote a 350,000-word novel which went the rounds of the publishing houses. It was one of those stream of consciousness jumbles, completely unintelligible to everyone but Saroyan. It made the writings of Joyce and Cummings seem like a First Grade reader, but it did impress the publishers. It was so outlandish that everyone who saw it talked about it, and that kept Saroyan’s name before the market he wished to reach. It was effective publicity.

When his collection of twenty-six stories was announced, the critics had been prepared in advance with the result that “The Daring Young Man” received the attention usually reserved for established writers. At this writing Random House have already sold 4,000 copies, which is a remarkable sale for a book of this type.

Saroyan is not for the masses. His rambling style, his straining for effect becomes after a time a trifle annoying. However, this young man can write. He has a feeling for words and the stability to sketch in clear cut lines a character, a scene or an event. Many of his stories seem to have little or no point but they do express a mood into which it is easy to fall. The modern and fast growing school of literary criticism which believes that a work to have merit must have some social significance will make short work of this collection, but it cannot be denied that Saroyan is a writer of power who will, if he ever disciplines himself, produce some notable work.

Right now Saroyan is the leading Armenian writer, but then there are only two others, Michael Arlen and Gordon Garbedian.

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