Beggarman, Thief: Murder with a surprise ending

Beggarman, Thief is a sequel to Rich Man, Poor Man, but readers need have no acquaintance with Irwin Shaw’s 1970 bestseller to enjoy this 1977 follow-up.

cover of "Beggarman Thief" is all text
Complexity of “Beggarman, Thief” defies imagery.

Tom Jordache has been clubbed to death on the deck of his own ship in the harbor of Antibes.

After scattering Tom’s ashes, Tom’s sister, Gretchen, goes back to her Hollywood job.

Tom’s bride of five days goes home to England to bear Tom’s child there.

Toms 16-year-old son, Wesley, who had only shortly before come to live with his father, wants revenge.

Wesley vents his rage his loss on a man in a bar, nearly killing him. He’s released from jail on condition he leave France. He reluctantly goes to stay with his mother and her new husband in Indianapolis.

That leaves Rudolph, the brother Tom and Gretchen always disliked, to settle Tom’s estate in France and make sure Wesley doesn’t commit murder.

Handling unpleasant affairs is how Rudolph made his millions.

In Rich Man, Poor Man, Shaw presented a complicated family story. In Beggarman, Thief he adds both a murder and terrorism to a family story—and does it all with seeming effortlessness and an optimism missing in his 1970 novel.

When push comes to shove, the Jordaches are family.

Beggarman, Thief by Irwin Shaw
Delacorte Press, c.1977. 436 p.
1977 bestseller #7. My grade: A

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Evening in Byzantium

Evening in Byzantium isn’t set in Byzantium.

a city by the sea that could be anywhere is image onon Evening In Byzantium
Cannes is not quite Byzantium.

That’s just the first of many intriguing and ultimately frustrating aspects of Irwin Shaw’s 1973 bestseller.

Jesse Craig, 48, a film producer who hasn’t produced anything in years, is in Cannes to pitch a film he’s written — if he can work up the courage.

He was successful early in his career, but the work he put in to create the success took its toll. Craig’s wife is divorcing him, he’s alienated from his daughters, and the pilgrims coming to Cannes worship money rather than honest storytelling.

A 20-year-old “journalist” chases Craig for an interview. She’s obviously motivated by something more than a byline, but Craig can’t figure out what.

At Cannes, Craig learns what he had feared: He may get a buyer for his script but he’ll never get an audience for his film. The world Craig knew is gone.

Craig returns to New York where he is almost immediately hospitalized for a month with a bleeding ulcer which his surgeon tells him is self-induced.

In Shaw’s pen, Craig comes across as a genuinely decent guy. He treats even people he dislikes politely, albeit coolly.

Nothing in the novel prepares readers for Craig’s hospitalization or for his behavior after release.

Evening in Byzantium by Irwin Shaw
Delacorte Press, 1973, 368 p.
1973 bestseller #7. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Rich Man, Poor Man: A story without a message

Irwin Shaw’s beguiling novel Rich Man, Poor Man will keep you turning pages way past your bedtime.

Rich Man, Poor Man 1st ed dust jacket

It won’t, however, provide anything other than entertainment.

Shaw looks at the lives of Rudolph, Gretchen and Thomas Jordache from the end of World War II through the Vietnam War.

Their father, a German immigrant, killed to get to America. He finds he can’t get ahead no matter how hard he works. He takes his bitterness out on his wife and kids.

Rudolph, 16, has brains, ambition, and willingness to work hard. He deliberately cultivates his more rare assets: trustworthiness and likeability.

Gretchen is 19. Her high school friends went to college; her parents couldn’t afford to send her. She works as a secretary: The family needs her paycheck.

Tom, 15, is as bitter as his father. He’s smart, just not school-smart. He enjoys hitting people.

Shaw makes the separate lives of the three very different siblings come alive.

When they reach their 40s, Shaw succeeds in bringing them under one roof, but nothing can resolve their childhood traumas.

That’s probably a realistic outcome. Readers, however, crave some glimmer of hope that people can change the trajectory of their lives.

Shaw can’t produce one.

Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw
Delacorte Press, [1970]. 723 p.
1970 bestseller #10. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Bottom of 1948 list is top read today

The Young Lions, Irwin Shaw’s whopping novel about three very different World War II soldiers, was #10 on the 1948 bestseller list. However, it is clearly the best of that year’s novels by today’s standards. By comparison, the best of the rest are mediocre.

Shaw shows how people of different temperaments reach differently to war. Even though they may be equally good solders, some enjoy its challenges while others merely endure. War heightens their prewar personalities.

By contrast, the soldiers in Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead are cogs in a wheel. The only thing that they have to recommend them is endurance. His men slog through the jungle the way they slogged through prewar life. They had no personalities to be heightened. Mailer’s book may be a truer picture of war, but it’s a depressing book.

Also in the good-but-depressing category is Tomorrow Will Be Better by Betty Smith. Smith’s battlefield is a poor urban neighborhood where people fight to get a better life for their kids. Like Mailer’s soldiers, Smith’s city dwellers have nothing to recommend them but endurance.

The 1948 list has some decent escape reading. Dinner at Antoine’s (Frances Parkinson Keyes), The Bishop’s Mantle (Agnes Sligh Turnbull) and Pilgrim’s Inn (Elizabeth Goudge) fit in this category. Any of these is good take-on-vacation reading.

Enjoy!

Linda