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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Makes Sammy Run: A Novel

This novel was written over half a decade ago.  Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? was listed in Entertainment Weekly's list of books that have had a hard time coming to the big screen.  After reading this--what is arguably a sweeping epic--I can understand the difficulty of this great story being put on screen.

Sammy Glick is a rough-and-tumble kid from downtown New York City who gets a job at a newspaper.  He meets Al Manheim, the narrator of the novel, and gets on his nerves right quick.  Sammy rubs Al the wrong way, which is not for naught as Sammy soon lies, schemes, and bullies his way up the ladder through management.  Soon Sammy is in Los Angeles working in pictures, and the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Sammy continues to screw over anyone and everyone he can to get to the top.  It's only when Sammy gets screwed back that he can begin to understand the pain and misery he has caused others--and it has finally caught up to wreaking havoc on himself.

This book was originally published in 1941, and it's easy and quick to see how writing styles have changed.  Schulberg's writing is dense and highly descriptive throughout the book; it almost feels as though this book could be rewritten today and brought down in the number of pages needed to tell the story.  Narrative style has also changed quite a bit; this story doesn't move quickly and almost makes you ask in the end, "Did anything really happen at all?"  I had to commit to this story for the long haul.

I don't want you to misunderstand me--I did enjoy the story.  Sammy is a despicable character and he is a great read.  His character is deplorable, addictive, and as an outsider you hate him yet you understand why people can't say "no" to him.   When he eventually gets his comeuppance, it's difficult not to smile and think, "That's what you get, son."  I appreciate stories where that happens.  Don't get me wrong, though--the good guy doesn't win in this story.  But isn't how life works sometimes?

Kindle copy on left, hard copy on right.

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