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Sammy Glick Runs and Runs

Here's the terrific opening to Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run?:

The first time I saw him he couldn't have much more than sixteen years old, a little ferret of a kid, sharp and quick. Sammy Glick. Used to run copy for me. Always ran. Always looked thirsty.

"Good morning, Mr. Manheim," he said to me the first time we met, "I'm the new office boy, but I ain't going to be an office boy long."

"Don't say ain't," I said, "or you'll be an office boy forever."

"Thanks, Mr. Manheim," he said, "that's why I took this job, so I can be around writers and learn all about grammar and how to act right."

Nine times out of ten I wouldn't have even looked up, but there was something about the kid's voice that got me. It must have been charged with a couple thousand volts.

"So you're a pretty smart little feller," I said.

"Oh, I keep my ears and eyes open," he said.

"You don't do a bad job with your mouth either," I said.

"I wondered if newspapermen always wisecrack the way they do in the movies," he said.

"Get the hell out of here," I answered.

He raced out, too quickly, a little ferret. Smart kid, I thought. Smart little kid. He made me uneasy.

Schulberg packs so much into this short passage - the rapid-fire, wisecracking dialogue that marks so much of the novel; Sammy's always-frenetic pace and hints of a fascination with movies; Al Manheim's uneasy curiosity with the eager and ambitious office boy.

The word "ferret" is also worth noting here - both because it's used not once but twice, and that it's used instead of the more familiar "weasel." Both animals are quick, sneaky and furtive, just like Sammy, but "ferret" is more neutral while "weasel" has negative connotations (cheating, conniving, etc.). Though those latter qualities pertain to Sammy as well, the author chose to not be so blunt as to directly associate Sammy to them. Yet he still gets that point across, more subtly and effectively, by likening Sammy to a ferret instead.

February 7, 2009 in Books | Permalink