Book – Guys and Dolls
Author – Damon Runyon
Year – 1956 (this collection)
Genre – Short Stories
Pages – 285
So, why am I reading the original series of stories that form the basis of the musical Guys and Dolls? Well, obviously, because it is the next show I am in. Might as well get the plug out of the way immediately before you all leave me. 19th -22nd October at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford, we will be performing, and I am playing the part of Benny Southstreet. Check out our society’s website.
Damon Runyon is famous for having created a world which shows the seedy underbelly of New York in the early 1900s, using a very distinctive writing style that has influenced gangster movies for many years since. The show Guys and Dolls is based upon two of his short stories – The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure – and as I am a bit tragic and like to do a bit of research into the shows that I am doing, I decided to set upon reading the book.
The first, and easily most, disappointing thing that I found, is that only the first of the two short stories is in this collection. There are dozens of variations in how the short stories are published, and despite the fact that you would expect them both to appear in a book with the show’s title on, Blood Pressure is in fact in another collection. Just to make it worse, my character – Benny Southstreet – is not even mentioned in this collection! The very cheek.
This is where the disappointments end however, as this is a truly special set of short stories. If anything seems gangster cliched, or derivative, it tends to be because the books have influenced so much over the years, and many of the stories have been adapted for stage and screen.
Each of the stories – be they telling of a murdering femme fatale, or a drunk finding true love – are incredibly charming, and Runyon’s strictly present tense way of writing – including no contractions, and some rather outrageous slang and turns of phrases – makes much of the book even more charming, and often laugh out loud funny.
It took me a while to get through it – without a through line, I tend to get sidetracked on many goods – but it was thoroughly worth it. Come and see my show before you read it though – we don’t want any spoilers now, do we?
PS – as an aside, I have – as ever – used the front cover that I actually had to my copy here. Seems fine, but when I have been reading it on the way to work in the morning, and I pass the primary school around the corner, the parents dropping off their kids stare at me, presumably thinking that the scantily clad women on the front denote my book as being top shelf stuff, as opposed to classic literature with a Marlon Brando film adaptation. Heathens.