Monday, April 7, 2014

1967: The Arrangement by Elia Kazan

The Author:

Elia Kazan (1909-2003) was born Elias Kazantzoglou in Istanbul, which at that time was part of the Ottoman Empire, although he was ethnically Greek.  His parents emigrated to the United States when Kazan was four.  His mother came from a family of cotton merchants, and his father was sold rugs.   Kazan attended public school and put himself through college, eventually attending the Yale University School of Drama.  He moved to New York and joined the Group Theater.  He made a name for himself as a stage director, directing plays like Miller's Death of a Salesman, Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, and Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.

In 1947, Kazan was one of the founders of the Actors Studio, among whose first students were Marlon Brando and James Dean.  Kazan cast Brando in the the theater production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

In the mid-1940's Kazan began his career as a film director.  In 1951, he cast Marlon Brando as the lead in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, and again in the 1954 film On the Waterfront. He introduced the American public to James Dean in 1955's East of Eden.  He won two best director Oscars, one for 1947's Gentleman's Agreement and one for On the Waterfront.  He was nominated for two others and in 1999 was presented with a lifetime achievement Oscar.  This award caused some controversy.

Kazan became a controversial figure in 1952, when he cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee.  This led to his being ostracized from the film community.

In 1967, Kazan published his first novel, The Arrangement. He went on to publish four more novels and two autobiographies.  He died of natural causes in 2003.

The Book:

Length: 544 pages
Subject/Genre: Self-discovery/Realism

The Arrangement is a first person account by its protagonist, Eddie Anderson, a successful advertising executive.  The novel begins with Eddie explaining how he came to drive his car directly into a passing truck, seemingly against his will.  The narrator jumps around for a bit, explaining his relationship with his loyal but bland wife, Florence, his product-of-the-times adopted daughter, Ellen, and his mistress Gwen.  We learn that Eddie has always had women on the side, and that there was an assumed 'arrangement' between himself and Florence.  But Eddie falls in love with Gwen and becomes increasingly disillusioned with his life as an executive.  He starts destroying his professional and personal relationships and ends up with an ultimatum from Florence.  

The prose is often presented as a sort of extended monologue, where the narrator is recounting events that have already occurred and the diction is as someone speaking (full of "I mean"s and "anyway"s, etc).  The narrative voice is handled very well, moving closer and farther from the action to maintain a strong pace.  

The narrator is in many ways sympathetic, but in many ways off-putting.  As he says himself, "I could not get interested, not honestly, in anyone else's troubles.  I know it's disgusting, but that's the truth."  It's no coincidence that Eddie and his wife read Hesse's Siddhartha together.  Eddie is a self-centered man who has compromised his ambitions for financial success and stability, and must go on a journey to rediscover himself.  He's a character I can feel sympathy towards, but one who, if I met in person, I would not expect to like. Like contemporaries John Updike and Philip Roth, Kazan portrays a very frank view of sex and promiscuity, including two pages of the narrator discussing his own penis.

Kazan wrote and directed a film version of The Arrangement, which was released in 1969 and starred Kirk Douglas as Eddie Anderson and Faye Dunaway as Gwen.

I really liked this novel.  As much as the mid-life crisis/rediscovering yourself story-line has been done again and again and again, Kazan does it extremely well.  If you require a likable protagonist, you probably won't enjoy Eddie Anderson, but if you can put up with him I strongly suggest checking out The Arrangement.

Bestselling Novels of 1967:

1. The Arrangement by Elia Kazan
2. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
3. The Chosen by Chaim  Potok
4. Topaz by Leon Uris
5. Christy by Catherine Marshall
6. The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder
7. Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
8. The Plot by Irving Wallace
9. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
10. The Exhibitionist by Henry Sutton

Also published in 1967:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez - One Hundred Years of Solitude
S. E. Hinton - The Outsiders
Robert E. Howard - Conan the Barbarian
Anna Kavan - Ice
Flann O'Brien - The Third Policeman
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - The Cancer Ward


"Elia Kazan." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web.

Kazan, Elia. The Arrangement. New York: Stein and Day, 1967. Print.

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