[The Company of Men deals with the] wake of wild boys—"orphans of the state"—in France, during that postwar interim when living conditions had arrived at a kind of classic hopelessness. There have been other French novels on the same theme, but The Company of Men, taking off from the hardboiled American novel, arrives at a kind of brilliant freedom and boldness, combining realism with a delicacy of fantasy and imagination that makes for an exhilarating effect. Certain techniques, too—the way the short scene is focused upon, given a wring or twist, and then dropped, its barbed point still quivering—bring to mind the movie technique at its brightest—Chaplin here, Jean Vigo in France.
The first-person narration gives it another kind of leeway. Told by a young kid, twelve when his record begins, seventeen at the end when he is ready to join the company of men, the style is appropriately direct, slangy and bold. Getting around as he does, in stolen cars, acquainted with all the better people of the new underground, his "book" is a report on a society temporarily split down so many centers that a kind of totality of nihilism is about the most honest and realistic viewpoint that can be taken…. Everybody, at least, talks that way….
Their theme is: Well, what has become of us; what has become of the concept of man? And who are we? Escape artists? Has living betrayed us? Gary answers in part by...
(The entire section is 405 words.)